Non­fic­tion

In the Coun­try of Brook­lyn: Inspi­ra­tion to the World

Peter Golen­bock
  • Review
By – January 23, 2012

His­to­ry is record­ed by the vic­tors, it is said, but the most accu­rate his­to­ry may be that con­veyed by those who expe­ri­enced it. Ordi­nary peo­ples’ rec­ol­lec­tions, con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous let­ters and doc­u­ments, pho­tographs, and arti­facts pro­vide per­spec­tive and evi­dence for what occurred so his­to­ri­ans can ana­lyze and sum­ma­rize the past. This is the approach which Peter Golen­bock uses in his com­pelling book, In the Coun­try of Brook­lyn

Based on the oft-stat­ed premise that one in sev­en Amer­i­cans can trace his fam­i­ly to hav­ing once lived in Brook­lyn,” Golen­bock ani­mates his his­tor­i­cal analy­sis with oral his­to­ries that infer­en­tial­ly answer the ques­tion, What makes Brook­lyn spe­cial?” This is a cel­e­bra­tion of sim­i­lar­i­ty, despite the reli­gious, nation­al, occu­pa­tion­al, polit­i­cal, and social diver­si­ty of the interviewees. 

Many of the entries refer to Jack­ie Robinson’s trail­blaz­ing impact on racial jus­tice in the Unit­ed States. Robin­son might have suc­cess­ful­ly inte­grat­ed base­ball had he been signed by anoth­er team, but Brook­lyn may have been the ide­al venue for this grand exper­i­ment. Note Ira Glasser’s obser­va­tion: If you grew up in Brook­lyn the way I did, you were taught to believe that racial injus­tice was the same thing as anti-Semi­tism in Ger­many, that what led to the con­cen­tra­tion camps was the same thing that led to slav­ery and Jim Crow jus­tice, [and} if you were a Jew, racial jus­tice was your issue.” Play­ing a role in explod­ing the myth of inher­ent racial supe­ri­or­i­ty inspired Brook­lynites, but it also ulti­mate­ly set the stage for nation­al rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and de jure equal­i­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty in a nation that has select­ed an African-Amer­i­can as can­di­date for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. 

Golen­bock reveals shame­ful episodes, such as Ted Rosenbaum’s encounter with McCarthy­ism, and amus­ing ones, such as the role played by Neil Seda­ka and Cousin Bru­cie” Mor­row in the rock and roll rev­o­lu­tion. He chron­i­cles how immi­grant groups influ­enced Amer­i­ca, and the chang­ing face of Amer­i­ca over sev­er­al decades. And he gives voice to per­son­al fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty rec­ol­lec­tions that have shaped us today. 

Those who love the sov­er­eign nation of Brook­lyn will love this book.

Noël Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

Discussion Questions