Kingdom of Brooklyn

Merrill Joan Gerber, Author
Merrill Joan Gerber, Author Longstreet Press $18.95 (239p) ISBN 978-1-56352-022-8
Reviewed on: 01/01/1970
Release date: 01/01/1955
In this brutally candid, semiautobiographical novel, Gerber again (as in King of the World ) corrosively delineates the heinous abuses inflicted in the name of love, and a victim's ambivalence toward her abuser. Issa grows up in the WW II era in a claustrophobic household consisting of her parents, Grandma and her adored aunt Gilda, who runs a beauty shop upstairs, ``where real life is.'' Issa's gentle father, wreathed in the caramel smoke of his pipe, struggles as an antiques dealer, carting home intriguing junk (and coveted books) to furnish the house. Her piano-playing mother, pampered and stingy, dishes out savage verbal/emotional cruelty: she ignores dying Grandma's plight, mocks the lonely, acne-scarred Gilda, humbles her husband and inflicts Issa with fears of death. Food is a main issue. Her mother harries Issa to eat to the point of nausea; she herself disobeys Jewish dietary laws. Though consuming forbidden foods may provoke thunderbolts of holy retribution, Issa and her friends--Jewish girls ``without a Jewish worry''--gobble ham in a luncheonette. As the family dynamic emerges, Issa hates her baby sister, while her father and Gilda love each other with aching despair. Far from sovereign Brooklyn with its tragedies and ``treasured provinces'' lies the deadly limbo of Florida, to which Issa's mother wants to uproot the family. Yet her mother's verbal power invades Issa's desires, and Issa cannot deny emulating her. Gerber aptly conveys the visceral travail of the child (the grinding gut, the swinging heart). Her wry purity of style packs psychological dynamite. (Sept.)
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