Bed-Stuy Is Burning

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Bed­ford-Stuyvesant is a Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood with a sto­ried black his­to­ry. Until recent years, Bed-Stuy’s rep­u­ta­tion had been one of a crime-filled, dan­ger­ous, and grit­ty area. Now, its mag­nif­i­cent brown­stones are in demand, police pres­ence has increased, young white fam­i­lies and pro­fes­sion­als are mov­ing in and pop­u­lat­ing the parks and streets, new restau­rants and stores are open­ing, and ten­sions ensue. Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is happening!

Black fam­i­lies are feel­ing the pinch and young blacks are resent­ful of their priv­i­leged wealth­i­er neigh­bors. City pol­i­tics, polic­ing strate­gies, real estate val­ues, race rela­tions, and cul­tures all col­lide in Bri­an Platzer’s sig­nif­i­cant first nov­el, Bed-Stuy is Burning.

The book focus­es on the com­plex and con­flict­ed lives of six Bed-Stuy inhab­i­tants on one fate­ful and trag­ic Rosh Hashanah. These char­ac­ter stud­ies unfold through­out the novel’s past and present narratives.

Aaron has moved with his jour­nal­ist girl­friend, Amelia, and their infant son­to a beau­ti­ful­ly restored Bed-Stuy brown­stone. Once a prac­tic­ing rab­bi, Aaron’s lack of faith, and self-defeat­ing per­son­al­i­ty have led him to work as a Wall Street banker. His gam­bling addic­tion impacts on every aspect of his life, yet his social con­scious­ness, train­ing, and sense of jus­tice cause him to have con­cerns about the events he wit­ness­es in his new neighborhood.

Amelia, who won’t ful­ly com­mit to mar­ry­ing Aaron, writes fluffy celebri­ty mag­a­zine pieces in her upper- floor home office.Amelia and Aaron are always sec­ond guess­ing their motives, their lives, and their love.

Oth­er char­ac­ters include their nan­ny, Antoinette, a reli­gious sin­gle moth­er whose strong spir­i­tu­al beliefs have found her lean­ing toward Islam; their neigh­bor, Jupiter, who has worked hard all his life, brought up his teenage son by him­self and, is dis­tressed by the changes in the neigh­bor­hood; and Aaron’s ten­ant, Daniel, an unmo­ti­vat­ed, hos­tile, and sus­pi­cious col­lege pro­fes­sor who is devel­op­ing a fas­ci­na­tion with guns,

Neigh­bor­hood ten­sions rise after a twelve-year-old black boy is shot ten times by police. A demon­stra­tion erupts into a riot. Shots are fired and mur­ders are com­mit­ted. The ugli­ness esca­lates, build­ings burn, stores are loot­ed, and dan­ger­ous crowds assem­ble. Iron­i­cal­ly, the riot finds its epi­cen­ter at Aaron and Amelia’s house. The main char­ac­ters’ lives are in dire jeop­ardy. The ter­ror that ensues is heart pound­ing and relent­less. The after­math is sub­dued, but still terrifying.

Bed-Stuy is Burn­ing offers a sus­pense­ful, well writ­ten, and empa­thet­ic sto­ry filled with wit, wis­dom, and hard truths. It stands as an exam­i­na­tion of peo­ple caught up in today’s urban realities.

Platzer’s let­ter to his read­ers explains that the book is a cul­mi­na­tion of, intense debate with my fam­i­ly and friends, of per­son­al obser­va­tions, aca­d­e­m­ic research, over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, and count­less inter­views with my neigh­bors and fel­low Bed-Stuy res­i­dents.” This is most appar­ent in the fine­ly drawn and diverse char­ac­ters, the authen­tic ren­der­ing of events, and the feel” of the streets the read­er experiences.

The impact of this debut nov­el is unset­tling. While the char­ac­ters endure dark­ness, grief, and chal­lenges, there are many unre­solved issues and no easy answers.

Bed-Stuy is Burn­ing is an engag­ing, time­ly, and provoca­tive read.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions