Amy Bess Cohen, who writes the excellent genealogy blog Brotman Blog: A Family Journey about her family’s history has written Pacific Street, available now at Amazon.
The story of Cohen’s grandparents, Isadore and Gussie, is an inspiring coming-to-America tale with all the resonance of actual experience. Cohen has painstakingly documented the early part of her relatives’ lives through historical research using official documents and has incorporated information shared through family stories.
She has researched the settings and cultures described and added her own imagination to infuse the book with appropriate details and descriptions. This is no dry historical telling, but a well-structured adventure full of tragedies and triumphs like a novel, although more accurately, it is creative nonfiction in the historical subgenre.
As Cohen alternates the narratives of Isadore and Gussie (until their stories merge together near the end), the reader becomes one with the characters. The loneliness of both characters is excruciating, especially since family is so important to both of them.
Isadore is forced to immigrate to the United States by himself when he was only sixteen years old, and when he arrives the aunt entrusted to welcome him to the new world is emotionally unavailable to him. Gussie in many ways still lives the immigrant life of her parents’ generation. Her world is circumscribed and without time for play. When the two finally meet up in a very romantic first encounter, the reader is more than ready that these two find happiness.
Will their happiness last? The book resolves that question in a realistic manner. It will be a worthwhile experience for any reader to follow Isadore and Gussie on their journeys.
As a writer who frequently works with history and, especially, family history, I was impressed by Cohen’s ability to describe many characters in large families in a way that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. When I began the book and when I finished the book, I had the same thought: that the genre of this book can be further refined to young adult. The material is as complex and fascinating as any for the adult reader, but the approach to adult themes and the focus on the coming-of-age period of life for both protagonists is consistent with books for older children and teen readers, as well as adults.
This is a book you might want to read yourself and then pass on to your child or grandchild. It’s a story of family for families.