BORSCHT BELT BUNGALOWS by Irwin Richman

BORSCHT BELT BUNGALOWS

Memories of Catskill Summers
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 For more than half a century, until about 1970, legions of middle-class Jewish workers and businessmen moved their families each summer from crowded New York quarters to Catskill bungalow colonies and communal settlements known as kuchaleins (literally: ``cook alones''). This is the colorful but hitherto scanted kuchalein story. Richman's (American Studies and History/Penn. State Univ.) family owned and managed a typical colony during the heyday of the bungalows. He fondly recounts seemingly everything about the business. Mothers and the kids would occupy the rustic mountain dwellings for ``the season'' (July Fourth to Labor Day) and fathers would appear, frequently burdened with provisions, for the weekends. (The provisions were often considered contraband because the owners, playing ``farmer,'' sold produce to the captive guests.) The story is knowingly presented from the point of view of the landlord, traditionally depicted as a penny-pinching villain, but here naturally presented in fuller dimensions. Along with business matters, there is much about traditional cuisine and amateur theatricals, kids' frolics, water and sewer arrangements, swimming in the Neversink, daily routines, and holiday practices. Particulars abound regarding sneaking into the grand hotels nearby or fishing for trout with rye bread for bait. There are descriptions of artifacts like cow flop, ice cream frappes, and flypaper. Richman's style is simple and direct. The text turns a tad wistful as he describes the scene today, dominated by coops with Hasidim and the newly Orthodox. Sure, the old days were halcyon, but the unrelenting sifting through the detail is like sitting in a schvitz (a sweat lodge with a Yiddish accent) with a genial but garrulous old uncle blessed with total recall. A pleasant Borscht Belt memoir, much like a Borscht Belt meal: excessive beyond nourishment, but hey, why not try a little? (62 b&w photos, not seen) (For the grander side of life in the Catskills, see Richard Grossinger's Out of Babylon, p. 1622.)

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1998
ISBN: 1-56639-585-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Temple Univ. Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTHE CATSKILLS by Stephen M. Silverman
by Stephen M. Silverman