SHARKEY'S KID by Leroy Ostransky


A Memoir
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 Jewish nostalgia, Manhattan style. Ostransky (Music/Univ. of Puget Sound) recalls his childhood on New York's Lower East Side, where he lived under the heavy thumb of his illiterate father. During Prohibition, the elder Ostransky was known as Daddy at home, Sharkey at the illegal bar that he managed on Rutgers Street. Daddy had a passion for Victor Red Seal classical records, loved Caruso and gypsy violin, and wanted more than anything that his son grow up to match Heifetz and Menuhin as a Jewish virtuoso. To this end, he forced young Leroy to practice daily in the back room of his bar and take weekly lessons uptown from Maestro Cores. Unfortunately, what Daddy/Sharkey liked was ``Jewish music'' (which he heard in the most unlikely works simply because they might be written in a minor key) and beat the boy to make him sound more passionate. In fact, the musical apogee of Lower East Side Jews was the cantorial style, which requires ``vocal virtuosity equal to anything in Verdi or Puccini,'' and is so dramatic that ``even the unfaithful might suspect that the Lord of the universe pays attention and listens.'' That's what Sharkey wanted to hear when Leroy practiced--but it wasn't the clean, sharp playing that Maestro Cores wanted. Sharkey was a violent man, used to keeping law and order in his bar with his fists, and when at book's end he at last accompanies trembling Leroy to a lesson from the Maestro, who complains about the boy's gypsy style on the scales, Leroy expects his old man to punch out the teacher. Finally, at Prohibition's end, the bar collapsed, and old Sharkey became an assistant on a beer-delivery truck. Old home-feelings all on a dead level with no rising action- -but some elders will welcome this seedcake.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-10325-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991