Read Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood by Kate Simon Free Online
Book Title: Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood|
The author of the book: Kate Simon
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 1987 times
Reader ratings: 7.7
Edition: Penguin Books
Date of issue: August 1st 1997
ISBN 13: 9780140263312
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 363 KB
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3.5/5 enjoyed this very much.
Kate Simon's Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood is a wonderfully evocative memoir of growing up in New York City in the 1920s. She tells her story not only from the perspective of a girl and young woman but also of an immigrant. It was published in 1982 and was one of the New York Times Book Review's twelve best books of the year as well as one of Time magazine's five best. She continues her story in A Wider World: Portraits in an Adolescence and Etchings in an Hourglass, both of which I will be reading at some point and am hopeful they will be equally as engrossing as this has been. Bronx Primitive is made up of fourteen chapters that read more like a series of interconnected essays touching on various aspects of growing up--her family and friends, school and life in general on 178th Street and Lafontaine Avenue, and the reader gets a snapshot view of Simon's life up to the age of fourteen.
In some ways her childhood experiences are somewhat harrowing as she was at the mercy of relatives and family friends who thought nothing of taking advantage of a young girl, but this is in no way a misery memoir. Although never explicit you get the feeling her family was poor--her father made shoes and each nice thing the family bought was the result of many hours of hard work. She writes about her youth in a completely unsentimental manner and quite matter of factly, even if some of her stories are cringe-worthy. In Poland Kate was Kaila, named after her grandmother, but her name was changed to Caroline upon her arrival to America when she was only six, and eventually she became Kate. She emigrated with her mother and younger brother, but her father had traveled ahead to find a job and a place to live. You get the sense he was happy to live the life of a bachelor, if only temporarily. I'm not sure Kate was particularly close to either parent, and certainly her mother and father had their own difficulties with each other, but she frequently butted heads with her father who was very rigid and unyielding in his ways and expectations.
Although Kate's family was Jewish, they seemed to practice more out of tradition rather than a stringent belief. Her mother rarely went to the synagogue, and while there were things they did or didn't do according to their faith, Kate often didn't understand the reasons why. She spent at least as much time, maybe more, with the Italian families on her block and in her tenement building getting an entirely different sort of education than that which she received in P.S. 58, 57 and 59. She was a good student, but just missed getting into a "rapid advance" school where junior high could be accomplished in two years rather than three, which caused a huge rift with her father who was sure her failure was on purpose and to embarrass him. When she was ready to go to high school he would have been happy for her to leave school altogether and attempt to become a concert pianist, but she had other dreams.
It was with a certain nostalgia (even though this is a period I am only familiar with through books and movies) that I approached this book, but in the telling of her childhood memories, I'm not so sure nostalgia is the right word to use. Going to Coney Island with a nickel and buying hotdogs and Baby Ruths does convey a certain vanished world that makes me wonder about life in another era--better than my own? And I found the stories where children kept mum about behavior not meant to be shared with grown-ups fascinating. Maybe all children have that unwritten code they must adhere to--things they know but can't and won't tell. Spending the afternoon with gypsies on those same Coney Island afternoons and not admitting the fact to parents is understandable. But not being able to turn to a parent, or worse a parent's collusion with other adults, when inappropriate behavior is occurring in such a small place as the family apartment is very disturbing. Childhood seemed a different world in the tenements of 1920s New York.
I found this a fascinating read despite some very uncomfortable moments. Kate Simon writes about her childhood with honesty and eloquence and even a certain humor. It may not always have been a happy place, but you still get a sense of her excitement to meet the world and all it had to offer her.
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