Thursday November 19th, 2009

A Rigorous, Unsentimental Memoir

bronx-primitiveThe New York State Writers Institute asked 25 notable writers to choose a favorite book of theirs about New York (“state or city”) to come up with a “distinctive and slightly unconventional guide to reading more deeply into the spirit of the Empire State.” The first 10 books are revealed here, and I’m not sure about “unconventional.” Most of these books and authors (Edith Wharton, John Cheever, Allen Ginsberg, etc.) are very well known. One exception — to me, anyway — is Bronx Primitive by Kate Simon. It was chosen by Le Anne Schreiber, who says this:

New York would not be New York without Ellis Island, and the immigrant millions who disembarked there to remake the city and themselves. Of the many classic accounts of life straight off the boat, my favorite is Bronx Primitive, Kate Simon’s rigorously unsentimental memoir of her 1920s girlhood. Its reigning virtues are clarity and candor about the physical and emotional environment that surrounded a young girl, transplanted to the Bronx from the Warsaw ghetto, a girl so lethally observant and renegade in spirit that she took pride in her tyrannical father’s epithet for her — “the silent white snake.”