Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue By Mark Kurlansky

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The Independent Culture

Mark Kurlansky, best known for his non-fiction (including Cod and Salt), sets his first novel among the tenement blocks of his old neighbourhood, New York's Lower East Side. It's the summer of 1988 - Mike Dukakis is standing for president - and the garbage on the street is beginning to smell particularly ripe. Kurlansky lets us out on Avenue A, where sushi is being prepared by Mexicans and challah bread by Koreans. As the sweltering morning progresses, we're introduced to a dizzy-making cast of commerce-hungry locals: Jews, Latinos, Germans, Sicilians, and one Dominican who pretends to be a Puerto Rican, then reinvents himself as an Italian. Wedged in the middle of this mix, like the cream cheese in a bagel, is Nathan Seltzer, a 41-year-old Jew who runs the local photocopy shop. Nathan is at a crossroads in his life. He loves his wife, Sonia, and his three-year-old daughter, but lusts after a German pastry cook named Karoline, whose father was probably a Nazi. Illicit strudel lessons soon ensue. Humorous storytelling and offbeat sociological observation feed a novel that lovingly bottles the food, music and patois of one of Manhattan's most vibrant "hoods". A nostalgic snap-shot of a world teetering on the edge of gentrification.

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