8 July 2011

Emanuel Litvinoff: Journey through a Small Planet (1972)

Emanuel Litvinoff (born 1915) grew up in the interwar years in a Jewish working-class community in the borough of Bethnal Green, in the East End of London, and this is his account of his childhood. Or rather, it's a fictionalized account, of course, as is any memoir, but there's a great deal of dialog in it (including the obligatory liberally strewn Yiddish vocabulary for authenticity/color, etc) that automatically makes it read as fiction.

Divided into twelve sections, the book broadly traces the development of Emanuel Litvinoff (apart from the first section - 'Ancestors' - where the first person is not present) from childhood as part of a one-parent family, through his relationship with his mother's live-in lover, school, first loves, technical college, work, sexual frustration, and so on.

Although some of the sections contain characters encountered before, there is no sense of continuity other than the obvious passage of time, and each could be read as a self-contained entity, with no loss of comprehension: these are cameos of Jewish life in an East End that's long since gone.

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