Brooklyn: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor and Your Schleppers [GUEST POST]

Splashing Excitement - Park Slope, Brooklyn

Thelma Adams, author of Bittersweet Brooklyn, fondly remembers a lifetime growing up on the other side of the bridge. (Photo by Marco, Flickr)

There are few places I think of more fondly than Brooklyn. Having lived just off the Promenade during the early 1990s, I can still feel the crisp air on my skin as I walked up Cranberry toward High Street to get a slice. The neighborhood shimmered with red and gold foliage even as the leaves danced to the throbbing music of city traffic as it echoed around the brownstones and toward the Hudson. I loved everything about that period in my life. Yet as beloved as my time was there, my residence was short, even if my memories are still vivid twenty-five years later. Writer Thelma Adams, however, spent a lifetime there and today she stops by to tell us why she always returns to Brooklyn, literally and in her writing, and what makes it such a special place. Enjoy! —J&H

Brooklyn Heights Promenade Sunset

The view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is stunning. (Photo by Yung, Flickr)

I moved to Brooklyn from Chelsea in 1987 with my husband. We were relative newlyweds and when we told friends that we were moving to Park Slope they laughed and said we hope you don’t expect us to visit. We didn’t. We moved from Park Slope to Kensington by Green-Wood Cemetery, from renting to owning, from single to parenthood.

Thirty years later and still married, I no longer live in the boomtown Brooklyn has become. I did live, and had my children, in that borough where my late father had been born. He was a true Brooklynite who loved the loudness and aggression and passion and energy and food of his birthplace. I had hoped to share many years with him in our limestone on Caton Avenue in the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish. He, sadly, passed away and never saw our house with the tree that grew beside it and the wide stoop where we’d sit all through the summer and into those warm joyous Halloweens when the kids were little.

The Brooklyn of my father’s youth and the preceding decades are the setting for Bittersweet Brooklyn, working title Kosher Nostra. It’s a Brooklyn of the imagination, and reality, too. It’s a poor Brooklyn, a Brooklyn accessible to working immigrants just scraping by and surrounded by others like them from around the globe. He would have called them schleppers – as in give us your tired, your poor and your schleppers.

I plotted the course of all the apartments and houses I found when I researched his branch of the family on Ancestry.com. I noted census data and war records. I used Zillow and Mapquest and Google satellite.

As I had spent days tracking the exact tick-tock of the Gunfight at the OK Corral for my last book about the Jewish woman who stole Wyatt Earp’s heart in Tombstone Arizona, The Last Woman Standing, I charted the rise and fall of the Lorbers from Drohobych in what is now the Ukraine. They rented apartments all over what is now hipster Williamsburg adjacent to the Italian neighborhood. Then they moved on up to a row house on Montauk Avenue in East New York, which is still a risky neighborhood – although it wasn’t then.

There is a lot of Brooklyn love at the heart of this novel. It allowed me to walk the many blocks that I had as a young wife and mother. I took my kids in their stroller to walk the hills of Green-Wood and peak at the Tiffany windows in the crypts and the beautiful statues and the azaleas in spring.

I loved the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and I have my lovers stroll there, as they do in Coney Island, which is a much more common setting of books and movies. One of my favorite excursions is to be at the Coney Island boardwalk, or even Brighton Beach, on a cold snow day, drinking shots of vodka from a bar where the owners speak Russian.

My father always talked about the Italian feasts growing up – how the kids he knew climbed the greased pole to grab a prize at the top and prove their manhood in the ascent. In my novel, I included the Giglio, a religious feast that my husband and I attended and that originated in Naples and that continues to this day.

I miss that Brooklyn, that house that I thought I’d always live in, the wonderful Polish delis with pickle barrels on Church Avenue, and the diversity and ethnic festivals. It’s no longer the place I knew – and it’s no longer the place my father knew. It’s no longer a place for schleppers.

But I continue to return, to visit friends, to see the upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum – and to research my next book, May the Circle Be Unbroken, which is set on a street in Brooklyn Heights that has always been prime real estate.

Add to Goodreads badge

Thelma Adams' BITTERSWEET BROOKLYN

Lake Union

ABOUT THE BOOK

In turn-of-the century New York, a mobster rises—and his favorite sister struggles between loyalty and life itself. How far will she go when he commits murder?

After midnight, Thelma Lorber enters her brother Abie’s hangout under the Williamsburg Bridge, finding Jewish mobster Louis “Pretty” Amberg in a puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. She could flee. Instead, in the dark hours of that October 1935 night before the dawn of Murder, Inc., she remains beside the fierce, funny brother who has nurtured and protected her since childhood. There are many kinds of love a woman can feel for a man, but few compare to that of the baby sister for her older brother. For Thelma, a wild widow tethered to a young son, Abie is the center of her world. But that love is about to undo everything she holds dear…

Flipping the familiar script of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and The Godfather, Bittersweet Brooklyn explores the shattering impact of mob violence on the women expected to mop up the mess. Winding its way over decades, this haunting family saga plunges readers into a dangerous past—revealed through the perspective of a forgotten yet vibrant woman.

Thelma Adams

Thelma Adams
(Photo by Emily Assiran)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thelma Adams is the author of the best selling historical novel The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which O: The Oprah Magazine described as “a witty debut novel.”

In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for Yahoo! Movies, The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Marie Claire and The Huffington Post.

Adams studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was valedictorian, and received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

Visit Thelma at her home on the Web at ThelmaAdams.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Bookbub.

HFVBT_Logo_Banner TwitterBITTERSWEET BROOKLYN
By Thelma Adams
352 pp. Lake Union. $14.95

Purchase Bittersweet Brooklyn at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

Bittersweet Brooklyn is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

bittersweet-Brooklyn - Copy

About Thelma Adams
I am the author of the historical novel BITTERSWEET BROOKLYN, the bestseller THE LAST WOMAN STANDING and PLAYDATE, which Oprah magazine described as “a witty debut novel.” In addition to my fiction work, I am an American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. I studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, and received my MFA from Columbia University. These days I live in upstate New York with my family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: