Up From Orchard Street

Written by Eleanor Widmer
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

The 1930s lower East Side of Manhattan comes to brimming life in this novel/memoir. Told from the precocious viewpoint of nine-year-old Elka Roth, the odd duck of her three-generation family, we meet the people of her Jewish neighborhood and the melting pot city around it. Characters, both major and minor, come to immediate life. Widmer’s details, from the squalor of the slum that is the family home to the delicacies wrought by her beloved grandmother, leap from the page.

Although besieged by crisis, sickness, poverty and their own frailty, the Roths live each moment with a zest and intensity that is the envy of uptown relatives, country vacationers and their constantly fretting team of doctors. Manya, the family founder and open-hearted nurturer, rises above all. A wonderful woman’s extreme adventure story of endurance that can take its place proudly beside The Color Purple, Jane Eyre, and the work it most resembles in setting and tone, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Highly recommended.