Pacific Street

A Novel by Amy Cohen

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. 

This would have been part of Isadore’s experience at Ellis Island. Digital ID: 416750. The pens at Ellis Island, main hall. These people have passed the first mental inspection.. Levick, Edwin — Photographer. 1902-1913 Repository: The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

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. 

Isadore as well as Gussie would have been familiar with this sight. Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Occupations – Milkman.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 22, 2020.

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.  

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25 Responses to Pacific Street

  1. Amy says:

    Charles, thank you so much for this thoughtful review of my book. I love that you added all the background of the Iasi pogrom which I could not add in the context of the novel. Your words are so meaningful to me. And as for a second book, I am indeed working on one, but about a different ancestor. As long as my mom is alive, I want to respect her privacy and not write about her life. But perhaps when the time is right, I will write more about her parents and her siblings and her. Thank you again! This is so very much appreciated.

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    It looks like a fascinating book describing the fate of immigrants in the United States. I will put it on my to-read list.

  3. grannyfox55 says:

    Putting it on my to read list. Love that you used your ancestors in the story

  4. I’m looking forward to reading it too

  5. Amy says:

    Reblogged this on Brotmanblog: A Family Journey and commented:
    I am delighted and honored by Charles Moore’s insightful and in-depth review of my novel, Pacific Street. Thank you, Charles!

  6. Beautiful review. Congratulations on a job well done.

  7. Sharon says:

    Charles’s insight in explanation of the Iasi pogrom of the time was extremely helpful to me. He wrote a wonderful review and said so much better what I would want to say – I did read your book and thought it was wonderful. I’ll be anxious to get my hands on your next book 🙂

  8. Luanne says:

    Charles, this is a wonderful review of Amy’s amazing book. I also loved how she brought the genealogical research to life through the characters.

  9. Sharon says:

    Sometimes it is hard for me to follow who’s posting what so personally to you as I thought this was on Amy’s page; Charles this was a great review of a great book I enjoyed reading too. I really appreciate your explanation on the Iasi pogrom and it really helped me to understand my ancestors reasons for leaving during that time period.

  10. Sue Schaefer Baum says:

    WOW! Quite a positive and encouraging review of a beautiful telling of a tough but real family story. Thank you, Amy, for your family sharing💕!

  11. Eilene Lyon says:

    Wonderful review! I hadn’t known of the book – I just recently started following Amy’s blog. You’ve provided some useful background information. I’ll have to get a copy.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I don’t know if you have visited Ellis Island. Walking around, looking at abandoned goods, going through the isolation wards and the medical facilities gives you an amazing deep understanding of how frightening the “welcome” must have been to those arriving speaking another language.

    • chmjr2 says:

      While Ellis Island had many interpreters I agree it had to be frightening. Amy does a great job in her book putting you on the Island with her Grandfather Isadore.

  13. Sandi McGinnis says:

    The description of the Jewish situation sounds so much like the situation we currently have after the death of George Floyd.

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