If you are an avid reader, there is a time when you come across one of those reads. Those iconic reads, taking you to a place and a world knowing, but unfamiliar. A world that you did not truly know. That you heard of. That you were exposed to. Yet, one that you truly never knew. A prevalent image of your mind for a particular culture of people has been shifted to include other realities of their existence. Reading of that world is initially. . .shocking. The shock is the beauty of it all because it is a shattering of any expectations, that you had. And, because you are surprised, you are compelled to begin an adventure in discovering that world. No matter now uncomfortable it may be.
This is how the journey began in my own, initial readings of Bittersweet Brooklyn, by Thelma Adams. This dynamic world of early 1900’s, Brooklyn, New York Jewish culture is captivating. Not because of the extreme conditions, but because of its complexity. This literary aesthetic conveys the harsh, migration stories of Jewish communities in the urban context of US soiling. Stories in the farcity of Jewish communities having always been united; or having always distributed natural compassion to those who were more unfortunate in their communities highlights this other world of Jewish existence in the United States. Thelma Adams is descriptive and keen in how she leads our reader’s eye into this world.
Our protagonist of the story is a young woman, caught between the worlds of familial loyalty and morality. Her circumstances, childhood experiences, womanly attributes, and others indicate that she is truly a lady of red. Of course, as usual, that’s for another piece. The realities of her present become intricate to her past. How Adams brings a marriage to time is ingenious. Allowing the two worlds to coincide, simultaneously, but in different timing. Its miraculous and highlights Adams unique skill of channeling words into a way that suits Universal rhythm. Miraculous, indeed! From the structure of the writing, and how different parts are segmented and identified through years and places, the naked eye would only see the repetition of different periods and settings, maintaining a sequential pattern of going back and forth. Yet, if one were to examine it with a more Divine eye, you would see (and feel) how Thelma Adams’ writing style, in this body of literature, embodies a Universal style. The writing sequencing forces one to go deeper in reading through the intertwining of these different times and settings.
One of the masteries of the novel is how it forces the reader to return to that little child, that we were, in order to make sense of our present realities. Clearly, the child and the adult never separated. They are forever intertwined with each other. One has the answers for the other. One has questions for another. In a spiritual realm, they end up being each other’s confidant. Counseling each other on their personal needs and desires. Or even trying to make sense of this thing, called-life. In this particular novel, we have this spiritual, emotional, and psychological journey take place through the eyes of one woman and her perception of Jewish communities in New York City.
One of the beauties of the character, Thelma, is that, while she is an adult woman, she is still a little girl, at heart. Still connected to her, and the innocence of that girl child. Its beautiful and inviting, simultaneously. The pattern used by Adams allows readers to experience that journey of the protagonist’s development from adolescence to adulthood. We are on a continuous journey of her bloom. What makes these moments nutritious is how Thelma (the character in the novel), allows readers to re-live this period of growth in our own lives. Its a therapeutic experience, and invites us to go through individual processes of healing. We go through these experiences again, in order to answer questions, and gain clarity for confusion experienced, in our present-day reality. However many times Adams takes us through that journey, is how we are to experience those moments of re-living our, personal growth stories. Its a euphoric attribute, indeed! Because going back to our childhood allows for further growth in our womanhood, or manhood.
As I have started engaging in this journey of the main character’s life, I have felt a connection, and re-birthing of understanding, to the struggles of Jewish immigrants, and the complexities of their existence in New York City of the early 1900’s. The dynamics and coloration, presented in the novel, is one of trying to root one’s identity in a space of unfamiliarity. It is one of trying to make sense of whatever lingering chaos. It is a world of sustaining one’s culture and identity, making it meaningful in urban spacing, while always being reminded of the beauties of home.
The novel, Bittersweet Brooklyn, by Thelma Adams is a buffet of Jewish identity and culture in early 20th century, New York City. It is one of joy, love, overcoming, confusion, self-sacrifice, commitment, criminality, and down heart realness. The real, the honesty, is what makes it, beautiful! How the protagonist takes us on a journey through, her world, is. . .beautiful! Raw. Revealing. Uncut. Her spiritual journey is presented on an open platter for the reader to sample and taste. Should you “miss it,” or be oblivious to its scent, its because you chose not to appreciate the culinary.
I must go back to my initial shock of this particular, New York City, Jewish woman’s reality. Not because I did not hear of this side of Jewish reality in the urban sector (i.e. the presence of Jewish gangs and violence within particular Jewish communities), but as to how the story was told. The sensory and description of realities, made me feel as if I were there. As if I, a young, Black American woman, from Atlanta, Georgia, had retreated in time’s memory to see it all. As if I were there. Dressing in the way the people dressed. Experiencing that form of transportation and what life must have been like in New York City in that time. I felt being a distant presence, but somehow near. That “invisible” character in a story, who sees many things, even if not acknowledged. That person who observes, and therefore becomes part of the story because they have made another’s life. . .a priority. Seeing and recognizing the complexity of it because to some degree, it interconnects with one’s, own. Attentive to the slightest details because those small pleasures overshadow the greater pains of societal ills.
I imagined myself going out on a late night in New York City. Dressed in the way of those early, rolling 20 dames, and hitting up, similar spots, as the lead character in this novel of Thelma Adams. In touch with the hard times, while shakin’ with the good. Being one of those “brown faces,” that passed the heroine’s city, of their girlhood days, and smiling back to quiet their fears.
One of the joys of the initial readings of the book is how Earth’s natural beauties serve as a reminder that poverty is unnatural. Memories of gardens and vegetation of one’s homeland comes in handy, for the appreciation of such, in the novel. Sometimes one has to show just how atrocious unnaturalities are, for appreciation of. . .authentic beauty. Thelma Adams articulates it masterfully, in this body of work.
So much more is needed to be written about Bittersweet Brooklyn. It compels readers to wander into this particular life, that few will only know. Nevertheless, the literary culinary in the text comprises of different tastes. Some are obvious and inviting. Others are more of the acquired type. Needless to say, they become more familiar on the third or fourth helping. When you have had enough, just know that there is always more to savor. The words may be bitter, but so are the sweets!
To stay up-to-date with the latest work and artistry of film critic, Oscar expert, writer, and Mom-Thelma Adams-you may go to the following link: http://thelmadams.com/wordpress/ or to Twitter: @thelmadams