Bald­win Street

Alvin Rakoff
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

Call­ing Alvin Rakoff’s Bald­win Street a nov­el is a mis­nomer. Actu­al­ly, it is a series of vignettes, a pho­to­graph album filled with snap­shots of the peo­ple who lived on Bald­win Street in Toronto’s Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket dur­ing the Great Depres­sion. Like New York’s Low­er East Side, Bald­win Street was home to immi­grants, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Jew­ish, caught in the strug­gle between assim­i­lat­ing to their new home and keep­ing their tra­di­tions alive. Some of the sto­ries are fil­tered through the eyes of Leonard Abel­son, a boy who even­tu­al­ly attends the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and becomes a writer. 

A cou­ple of the vignettes are espe­cial­ly poignant, like the tale of Mur­ray Mill­stein who, dev­as­tat­ed at the death of his wife, takes unusu­al mea­sures to keep her close; or the sto­ry of the Alt­mans, whose only child is killed in the midst of an anti-Semit­ic riot. Not all of the sto­ries are trag­ic, though. Through Rakoff’s tales, the reader’s sens­es are filled with vivid images of this vibrant immi­grant community.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Mr. Rakoff’s writ­ing suf­fers from an annoy­ing gram­mat­i­cal tic: He writes. Like. This. A lot. To the point. Of dis­trac­tion. Its effect was to leave this read­er long­ing for com­plete sen­tences more than fur­ther tales of Bald­win Street.

Miri­am Bauer is an attor­ney and for­mer legal writ­ing direc­tor at DePaul Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege of Law. She lives in Chicago.

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