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Snow in August (1997)
It's 1947 in Brooklyn and altar boy Michael Devlin is 11 years old. He lives for the Brooklyn Dodgers, comic books, Saturday matinees and his Mother who was widowed during the War. But now his whole insular world is about to change. The Dodgers have a new player and he's black. Michael has a new friend and he's a Jewish rabbi--Judah Hirsch, a refugee from the Holocaust. And Michael and the rabbi have offended the local gang of Irish toughs, The Falcons and their brutal leader, Frankie McCarthy. Just when it seemed that the War had vanquished evil, it turns out that the malevolent forces of racism and hatred have a foothold in Michael's own neighborhood. In order to survive, Michael, his mother and the rabbi have to call upon resources that they don't even realize that they possess, including even the dreadful Golem of Jewish mystic tradition.
I'm not a huge Pete Hamill fan and the political agendas that are at work here are a little bit heavy handed (particularly in one fight scene at Ebbett's Field). But I'm as big a sucker as anybody for those magical fantasies of boyhood (see Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, etc.) and what really makes this book a terrific read is the relationship between Michael and Rabbi Hirsch. Michael's friends originally put him up to finding the secret buried treasure of the Jews that they think lies buried within the synagogue. But as Michael helps the rabbi with his English and teaches him about America and the rabbi in turn teaches him Yiddish and unfolds the beauties of preWar Europe, Michael discovers that the real secret treasure is love of learning.
Despite some scenes that may be excessively violent for younger readers, the emphasis on education and shared experience and love of words and literature is so compelling, that you hope that teens will read and love the book. And if the whole schtick with the Golem is a little bit over the top, I was willing to cut Hamill some slack because I'd bought into his characters and wanted to see justice served.
This one has something for everybody--a bittersweet coming of age tale, a humanist message, an evocative glance back at Brooklyn in the 40's and Europe in the 30's, a hefty chunk of Judaica and a little bit of dark fantasy--it's a real crowd pleaser.
Glenn Dryfoos's Review:
I read Snow in August on my trip and share the sentiments of
your review (which I held off reading until today)....I loved the scenes
of Michael and the rabbi, sharing language, the descriptions of
Another good scene...when the vets, led by Father Heaney, help clean the swastikas off the synogogue on Easter Sunday...the guys who were in the war knew the type of evil they had fought against...
The book makes a good fiction counterpiece to the Doris Kearns Goodwin book about growing up with the Dodgers...(see Orrin's review)
Maybe that's the solution: Gil Hodges could have beaten Frankie with his bat...
GRADE : B+
See also:Science Fiction & Fantasy
-BIO: PETE HAMILL
-ESSAY: D'Artagnan on Ninth Street: A Brooklyn Boy at the Library (Peter Hamill, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: SNOW IN AUGUST By Pete Hamill (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
-REVIEW: SNOW IN AUGUST By Pete Hamill (Robert Lipsyte, NY Times Book Review)
-Grade Nine Summer Reading Guide (Berkley Prep)
-DISCUSSION GUIDE: (WEBRARY)
-REAL AUDIO INTERVIEW: Is Journalism Dead?
-BOOKNOTES: Author: Pete Hamill Title: A Drinking Life: A Memoir ©-SPAN)
-ARTICLE: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS TO PETE HAMILL: drop dead (Salon)
-INTERVIEW: Rethinking the Left: Interviews with Susan Griffin, Pete Hamill, Bill McKibben, Jane Smiley, Noam Chomsky, Neil Postman, Eduardo Galeano, and Donella Meadows (Jay Walljasper, Social Policy)
-INTERVIEW: PETE HAMILL (Joan Baum, Peconic Independent)
-In play: A legendary newspaperman picks five sports novels that really hit home (PETE HAMILL, Salon)