An admiring portrait of the author’s father, who “rose from the lowest rungs of society, mastered the city, and became its King.”
Friedman’s (My Mother’s Side: A Journey to Dalmatia, 2011) title might lead readers to expect a story of a Chicago mayor or another of her great industrialists. However, the author’s father, Dan Friedman, was “a self-described ‘junk man’ whose business, the Associated Salvage Company, was located on the South Side…within a few blocks of the Union Stock Yards, the vast meatpacking district.” He was a man far ahead of his time who made his fortune recycling before it was fashionable. Raising his family on Chicago’s North Shore, he grew to be wildly successful, buying a new black Cadillac Coupe de Ville each year. The author writes of questioning his father’s history; he gained little from the man who never wished to discuss his childhood, insisting he didn’t know how to be a father since he never had one. Friedman also explores his grandfather Sam’s story of immigration and his father’s childhood in an orphanage and difficult upbringing. Like so many immigrants, they were distressed, but family was near, and both his father and grandfather entered mixed marriage with Catholics. Sam died suddenly when Dan was only 1; his wife, destitute, put her children in the Marks Nathan Home, a Jewish orphanage. Dan never forgave his mother for the years he spent there even though his siblings were with him. Memories of the harsh discipline and cruelty were never discussed. Would the possibility his grandfather died of syphilis explain why this woman received no help from her other family members, who all lived in Chicago? Ostensibly about his forebears, the slim narrative is really about the author’s struggles with his Jewishness, although he doesn’t really seem to care much until the end of the book.
A mostly well-written book for the author’s family and friends; others may take a pass.