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.