BY: ALVIN RAKOFF
Leonard Abelson is one of seven children. He lives above Abelson’s Hardware on Baldwin Street in Kensington Market in Toronto. It’s the 1930s. Leonard’s father, Sam, a former merchant sailor who speaks fourteen languages, does the purchasing for the store; his mother, Pearl, a Ukranian émigré who was a victim of pogroms and marauding Cossacks after WWI, runs the shop floor.
Leonard wants to be a writer. He witnesses the affections, struggles, and meager hopes of his neighbors—fuel for his imagination. Periodically, Leonard has to look after a young philosophy professor from the University of Toronto, Menasha Rifkin, who suffers from fugue states, squatting among the stalls on Baldwin Street reading Spinoza, Kant, and the Globe & Mail.
Halloween 1936. A band of young Italians invades Baldwin Street in search of blood. Marshall McDonald, the Irish cop who failed to quell the famous "Wop” vs. "Yid” riot at Christie Pits six years earlier, now must investigate the death of Bernie Altman, a young boy whose senseless slaughter lingers over the Jewish community like a bad dream.
In the tradition of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Alvin Rakoff’s Baldwin Street is literary fiction at its best. This powerful novel presents a vivid mosaic of characters, the rich fabric of a community, and a boy’s coming-of-age on the dusty, rough-and-tumble streets of Toronto.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alvin Rakoff is a film and television director, screen writer, and novelist. Former President of the Directors Guild of Great Britain, he has directed more than a hundred television dramas as well as a dozen feature films. He is the recipient of two International Emmy Awards and three Banff Film Festival awards, including Best Director and Best in Festival. His previous novel & Gillian (Little Brown) has been translated into ten languages. He was born and raised in Canada and is a graduate of the University of Toronto. He lives in London, England.
" Well-written and engaging... foretell[s] the continued intensity of social linkage among Toronto's Jews... Perhaps [their] collective consciousness is founded not only on their common religious identification, but also on the rich lessons of the immigrant experience told in the stories about Baldwin Street and places like it. " - Dr. Morton I. Teicher
" As in works by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Potok, the novel is much more than a cultural essay, its appeal is as much in universal coming-of-age drama... as in aspects of the immigrant experience. " - Booklist
"With a sure hand... Rakoff presents a parade of colourful portraits... Redolent of the atmosphere of the old market of the prewar era, this package of linked narratives is well made and charming... they make for rewarding reading..." - Canadian Jewish News
"Rakoff captures both the good and the bad that can occur when diverse cultures come together. [It is] full of eclectic characters and situations, and it is a pleasant, easy read." - Jewish Independent
"Calling Alvin Rakoff’s Baldwin Street a novel is a misnomer. Actually it is a series of vignettes, a photograph album filled with snapshots of the people who lived on Baldwin Street in Toronto’s Kensington Market during the Great Depression. Like New York’s Lower East Side, Baldwin Street was home to immigrants, predominantly Jewish, caught in the struggle between assimilating their new home and keeping their traditions alive." - Jewish Book World
"With a sure hand and trademark short sentences that sometimes seem too clipped, Rakoff presents a parade of colourful portraits and vignettes, veering from the unusual to the grotesque. In one well developed and richly painted story, Effie, a Yiddish-speaking black woman, becomes a trusted accountant for a Jewish businessman. In another, Murray Millstein, who lives on Augusta Avenue, is deeply affected by the loss of his wife and starts going to market dressed in her clothing. The Verys focuses on Melvyn and Goldie Rabinowitz, a mismatched husband and wife (respectively very small and very big) who come to Leonard by this time of college age, for advice.
Redolent of the atmosphere of the old market of the prewar era, this package of linked narratives is well made and charming. Although collectively these stories lack sufficient unity to be considered a novel, they make for rewarding reading just the same." - Bill Gladstone, Canadian Jewish News