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.