Poignant snapshots of a long-lost era and place: Widmer died last year at the age of 80.


Posthumous first novel offers pungent, nostalgic vignettes of Jewish life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side over the early course of the 20th century.

Matriarch Manya Roth, the narrator’s Bubby, emigrates from Odessa. Her husband dies on the way over from a lung ailment, and she is left to bring up their precocious son, Jack, on slim wages at Greenspan’s bakery. Manya’s fame as a cook spreads. An admirer, a typesetter at the Jewish Forward, sets her up in her own restaurant at 12 Orchard Street, where Manya, Jack and, later, Jack’s wife and two children, will live for the next 30 years. Jack, a dandy with an eye for dressing women stylishly, marries teenaged beauty Lil. He revamps her to look like a fashion model, and Lil eventually gets work as a saleswoman at Saks, though her lungs are scarred fatally from childhood diseases. Life on Orchard Street centers around Yiddish Bubby Manya, with her white hair and fetchingly full figure squeezed into a corset; the narrator accompanies her shopping to gather ingredients for her famous dishes of pickled herring and strudel. The family adopts a young black boy who shows up half-starved one night. They call him Clayton because his real name (Carlton) is too hard to pronounce. Other characters making their way through the author’s childhood memories include beloved Dr. Koronovsky, who leaves the Lower East Side for a golden career uptown but doesn’t neglect to invite Manya and the young narrator to his wedding, and Jack’s friend Rocco, a shoeshiner who “owns” Little Italy and is consulted on the perfect shoes to wear. Eventually, a summer sojourn to the farmland of Connecticut opens the family’s eyes to another way of life, while the advent of the cafeteria on Canal Street forces Manya to alter her old-style restaurant.

Poignant snapshots of a long-lost era and place: Widmer died last year at the age of 80.

Pub Date: July 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-553-80400-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2005

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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