Where does the time go? I know I purchased this book a few months after it came out. The copyright date says 2016, and here we are in 2020, and I have finally read the book. Pacific Street is an excellent read and well worth your time. The author Amy Cohen writes about the early life of her grandparents Gussie Brotman and Isadore Goldschlager, leading up to their marriage. While written as a novel, many of the events are true, and many of the people encountered in the book are real. To say the book is a result of a great deal of research would be an understatement. While written as a novel, the author let her grandparents take on that human quality that better served the telling of their story.
Amy opened her book with an actual event in Isadore’s home town of Iasi, Romania, in 1899. What exactly happens to Isadore during this event most likely will never be fully known and or understood how this affected him. In the year 1899, a Pogrom, which in simple terms means violence against a particular group of people for the most part Jewish, took place. Perhaps a little context may help. In 1866 Romania Jews were declared to be stateless, and only Christians can be citizens. After widespread Jewish support of the army in the 1877 war of independence, it was decided that Jews could become citizens but only on a case by case review of their merits. By the time of the Pogrom in 1899, Jews are almost five percent of the population. In 1898 students at the university in Isai started a hate campaign against the Jewish people. They started preaching hatred of the Jews and strongly encouraging a boycott against them economically. Speakers were openly calling for the extermination of the Jews and the destruction of their institutions. This all came to a boiling point in 1899 when the riot broke out. Jewish stores were destroyed as well as many private homes. Beatings and looting were to continue throughout the night in which several synagogues were destroyed. In some sections of the town, there were pitch battles between the Jews and rioters. Peace was not restored until the government brought in the army.
While the Pogrom is only briefly mentioned in the book, the story moves along with the telling of Gussie’s story in America. Gussie was very proud to be the first generation born in America. Her life was one of hard work from an early age. She was to take on many adult responsibilities while still being a child herself. While reading her story, I wondered if I could have done as much and as well as she did. Gussie’s story gives you a peek of the hardships many low-income families faced in the early part of the twentieth century. At about age thirteen, Gussie moved out of her mother’s house and moved in with her married sister to help with the children while her sister and brother-law worked in their little grocery store. This was to prove a significant turning point in her life.
Isadore was to immigrate from Iasi, Romania, in 1904. Amy brings us into the experience of the voyage and the arrival of Isadore to America. You could feel that you were experiencing the journey and especially the landing on Ellis Island. Through Isadore, you felt the excitement and the apprehension as the methodical process to enter America slowly unwinds. Amy was able to put you into the same place with Isadore and, by doing so, allowed you to have a greater understanding of what millions of people felt as they entered our country for the first time. Isadore was to find that life once here would be hard and very tasking even after making it into the country
What Amy has written in reality, is a love story. But it is much more than the love story between a man and a woman but of family and country. It is a love that had to withstand war, the Great Depression, and many personal hardships. Isadore was to find employment in the dairy field, never having an easy time with finances. Amy stops the book with the marriage of her grandparents. But I sense their story contains so much more. How did Isadore and Gussie raise their family on lower-paying jobs in such a way that each succeeding generation built on the foundation of the last for a better life? Perhaps Amy is busy writing her second book to answer these questions, much better than her one-page Epilogue.
The book consists of short chapters that make the reading of this story easy and moves the narrative right along. I liked the back and forth between Gussie’s story and Isadore’s story. By writing the book this way, it is easier for the reader to better understand the main characters and place them in their proper context. This book would make a great summer read, and perhaps after reading it, you may want to explore your own family history.