Leonard S. Bernstein’s Death by Pastrami is a collection of delightful, fast-paced stories — an intimate, anecdotal journey back to the heyday of the garment industry in New York, with a writer who has deeply known it.
In each of these seventeen stories, Bernstein introduces his readers to the everyday denizens of the schmatte world: money men, foremen, ragmen, salesmen, union organizers, cutters, watchmen: Engelhart, a children’s pajamas salesman and obsessive stealer of fountain pens; Kessler, the charmer, who wheedles widows into giving him their late husbands’ suits, which he then resells for $50 a piece; Henderson, who makes the decision to reduce his wardrobe to one navy blue suit, one shirt, one tie, one pair of shoes and socks that he will wear to the end of his days.The stories are populated by a cast of characters with at least a passing acquaintanceship with the old country, which adds an additional level of poignancy, as these ties to our collective memory fade with each passing year.
Bernstein combines the multiple talents of the natural raconteur and storyteller with an energetic, immediate writing style and spring-loaded dialogue. Also interspersed are a couple of tales of life in the old country: courtships gone askew, generational feuds. They too share the author’s ironic insights and sharp, zestful style.
- Adam D. Mendelsohn: Stumbling on Jewish Suppliers to the Confederacy
- Broken Threads: The Destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry in Germany and Austria by Roberta S. Kremer
- Short Stories reading list