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A Walker in the City

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  497 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Kazins memorable description of his life as a young man as he makes the journey from Brooklyn to americanca-the larger world that begins at the other end of the subway in Manhattan. A classic portrayal of the Jewish immigrant culture of the 1930s. Drawings by Marvin Bileck.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 19th 1969 by Mariner Books (first published 1951)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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James Murphy
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
My reading and enjoyment of Teju Cole's novel Open City last spring inspired me to reread A Walker in the City because I thought I saw similarities in the two. Cole's meditative story about an immigrant doctor in residence wandering New York City reflecting on what he sees and the rich brew of thoughts it all brings to mind reminded me of Kazin's memoir because that's how I remembered it. I was surprised to discover it's not quite that way. As a boy Kazin did explore and wander a bit. To say it ...more
Mar 06, 2018 is currently reading it
Of course I've vaguely heard of this book forever, but I had to have it literally thrust into my hands to actually start reading it. I'm only a smidge of the way through (although this book is so short, a smidge is probably 1/4), but it's staggeringly evocative, both of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn tenements and the shtetls of the "old countries" of Poland and Russia. Reading it feels like seeing my own heritage unfold and come to shimmering life between two covers, even though none of these ...more
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
I've never been much of a fan of memoirs, something about them has never resonated with me. It doesn't help that the genre seems to be jam-packed with so much celebrity dross, political maneuvering and self-help sob-stories nowadays--that's not to say that there can't be something genuine lurking in that morass, but I'm not going to spend much time looking through the haystack for the needle. Conversely, just because it was published before memoir writing became a cottage industry is no ...more
Kazin has a remarkable gift for turning a phrase. In his hands, memory is as dynamic and lively as a movie. Imagine, if you will, an American version of Walter Benjamin, a Bernard Malamud who writes nonfiction, and a Sherwood Anderson transported to an urban environment, and then combine the three. You pretty much have Alfred Kazin. Lord this was good. He can write something that's nostalgic and even sentimental, but make it moving instead of cloying, and that's a rare gift indeed.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The imagery was masterful and illuminating, making me feel as if I was there, with the author, walking the streets, remembering, contemplating and ruminating.

Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Kazin writes about growing up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn before the depression. As a New Yorker, and a lover of New York history, this stood out to me, but I think it really has universal appeal. Kazin is a fascinating man, and his struggles with issues like community and self-identity are easily identifiable.
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

A really beautiful memoir about growing up in the Jewish neighborhood of Brownsville ("Brunsvil") in the 1920s and 30s. I felt almost transported in time - Kazin has a way of really thoroughly describing the feel of a place, so that you're almost there with him in the summer nights, going to synagogue, walking through the Italian neighborhood, in the kitchen while women make dresses. It's a lovely little time capsule and glimpse into (for me) a different life in a different world.

Graychin (D. Dalrymple)
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
The word was my agony. The word that for others was so effortless and so neutral, so unburdened, so simple, so exact, I had first to meditate in advance, to see if I could make it, like a plumber fitting together odd lengths and shapes of pipe.

Like Moses, Alfred Kazin had a stutter. He found his Aaron in pen and paper, as this gorgeous memoir proves. Each of the books four sections traces a walking route through the immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood of Kazins youth and adolescence in the 1920s and
Laura Tanenbaum
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Every New Yorker has her own map of things as they were, things as they have become. In his memoir, the critic Alfred Kazin gives us is - the insular Bronzeville, Brooklyn neighborhood of the twenties and thirties, when Jewish immigrants discussed socialism and longed to join the "all right-niks" on Eastern Parkway. It's common to praise memoirs for being "without nostalgia or sentimentality" - but such a thing is rarely possible. This book is bathed in both, but to beautiful effect, giving us a ...more
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this about a decade ago, and forgot all about it until today. A wonderful look at life in "The City" from days gone by.

When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to go to a Chinese restaurant near my apartment. I stopped by one afternoon to pick up dinner, and saw the owners all dressed up-a well preserved 20 year old suit, camera, fedora, etc. for the man. His wife was wearing a flower print dress, and had her hair all done up. They told me it was their wedding anniversary, and that they were
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-request
Allowed me to live another person's discovery of life and words through walking the streets of East Brooklyn and beyond. I had only vaguely heard of Alfred Kazin, and the library copy is old and damaged ... I am thankful for the serendipity that brought me to this book!
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly lyrical book detailing childhood in 1920s Brooklyn. A New York must!
Thomas Breen
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kazins prose is truly transporting, lifting the reader from wherever he may be and placing him right in the middle of Pitkin Avenue, 1930, breathing in the sights and smells and sounds of the transplanted Jewish shtetl that is Depression-era Brownsville. Kazin is a ravenous reader and a lonely young man, hungry for ideas and fantasies and art and grandeur that exists beyond the bounds of his close, poor, assured Jewish world. He reads at every library he can get to, dives deep into American 19th ...more
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The New York of Kazin's youth, in the decade before the Depression, comes alive on the pages of this memoir as he revisits humble scenes in Brownsville and beyond, lingering along the way over sensory detail. One example from near the end, during the very hot summer of his sixteenth year:
"Ripeness filled our kitchen even at supper time. The room was so wild with light, it made me tremble; I could not believe my eyes. In the sink a great sandy pile of radishes, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and
Mar 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
These memory pieces by the famous, post WWII literary critic, all begin or end in Brownsville, the neighborhood in Brooklyn that was Kazins childhood home. Mostly theyre perfect. Only the longest one, The Block and Beyond, suffers from trying too hard to be lyrical. Otherwise, they are wonderfully observant recollections of time, place, and culture that bring to life parts of New York City from the 1920s and 30s in vivid description and colorful anecdote. I am 30 years behind Kazin so some of ...more
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Katherine, Christopher
Shelves: 5-star-books
An amazing memoir of Kazin's passage from a young Jewish boy growing up in Brownstone, Brooklyn in the 1920s, discovering the greater world around him through books, poetry, and wandering the streets of New York. Kazin doesn't just "tell" the story - he lives it on each page, drawing the reader into his shoes and his head as he finds his place in the world, and then as he returns to that scene some 20 years later and walks the streets and subways once more, remembering and reflecting and ...more
Megan Geissler
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Identity, urban development, memory, bygone eras, etc. Quite a splendid ode to author's Brooklyn childhood and cool glimpse of race relations and immigration back in the early- to mid-2oth century. I was compelled to keep learning about the evolution of Brownsville from an end-of-the-line Jewish settlement to disrepair and predominantly black housing developments - literally the periphery of society for generations of poor folk. The scenes were very evocative and lively, full of emotion and ...more
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ALL
Shelves: previouslyread
A WALKER IN THE CITY, is a kind of sensory tour Kazin's childhood in Brownsville, NYC. It begins, "Every time I go back to Brownsville it is as if I had never been away. From the moment I step off the train at Rockaway Avenue and smell the leak out of the men's room, then the pickles from the stand just below the subway steps, an instant rage comes over me, mixed with dread and some unexpected tenderness... As I walk those familiarly choked streets at dusk and see the old women sitting in front ...more
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"[I]t puzzled me that no one around me seemed to take God very seriously. We neither believed nor disbelieved. He was our oldest habit." (46)

"Life was a battle to 'make sure'; it had no place, as we had no time, for whims." (57)

"There seemed to be no middle ground between despair and the fury of our ambition." (70)

"In Yiddish we broke all the windows to let a little air into the house." (119)

"This [summer] light will not go out until I have lodged it in every crack and corner of me first." (165)
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully detailed description of the ambiance of walking through 1930's Brooklyn. The author returned home and describes his walks to the synagogue, his home, the shops and people of the neighborhood, and the leisure activities of the neighborhood. There isn't any character development or plot, just place and time. It is beautifully nostalgic. I recognize similarities between his 1930's Brooklyn Jewish experience to my 1960's queens Italian background including the garment district ...more
Mar 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book was an extraordinary read. The author reminisces over his childhood growing up in a poor Jewish community on the outskirts of New York: he then goes much deeper touching questions that we ask ourselves (or have ever asked ourselves) as teenagers/young adults grasping to understand our various identities and their place in this industrialized enigma. It is about finding your place in the world and making peace with the one that has passed. Alfred Kazin speaks to our conscience through ...more
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Took me back, although not as far back as the author, to the neighborhoods that I passed through on the LL train. That's right it was the LL and the last stop was Canarsie. It may be hard to understand, especially for "newbies" in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn was a city. And to this day, thre are people who have never left their neighborhoods. Kazin talks about gettting off the block and and what it was like to go to Manhattan, crossing the bridge. Great read!
Dan Lalande
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Journalist/critic Alfred Kazin's sensorial re-immersion into the Brownsville (Brooklyn) of his youth, a Whitmanesque inventory of the sights, sounds and smells of the Eastern European immigrant universe of the 1920's. The prose is high-minded but the perspective is sour; Kazin escaped, through literature, not with survivor's laughter but with tears that never dried.
Rachel S
Feb 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
if you love nyc, hate nyc but cant seem to shake nyc, kazin's racing heart and vision as he walks and walks from boro to boro, brings memories, even if you've not walked the same road as he did. kazin is a must read for writers, he writes as a writer, not as someone wanting to be a writer-there's no on/off switch. you absorb life from reading his work.
Cort Gross
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
right there with Luis Mumford on walking the City---told here from a Jewish kid in NYC's prespective. this is one of those books like Didion's "Slouching..."---which I return to annually to remember what a good essay is---this one I dip into frequently to see how to write about cities.
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Kazin has some lovely, lyrical descriptions, but his fixation on geographical place falls flat for me. It is only when he speaks of the emotions places evoke and the characters that the author has encountered that his prose starts to soar.
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a magical book that seamlessly flows from one chapter to the next, all without a traditional "plot." It's about what it feels like to grow up from a sensory perspective. So glad I read it. And it doesn't take long to finish.
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm still reading this and loving it.
A very moving depiction the life of first generation and immigrant Jews in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s. I can smell the pickles and herring being sold from pushcarts on Blake ave.
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction14
I heard about this via a guide to non-fiction book. And I'm glad I did. A great example of the genre and a delightful read too. The way Kazin gave us a place, a simple street or walk between a couple, and from that spun back and forth between various memories. A real treasure.
Nov 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
The author's coming of age story from Brownsville in Brooklyn to the outside world in a poetic odyssy. I could feel the summer heat on the pavements. I could smell the food cooking in his tenement apartment.
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Alfred Kazin (June 5, 1915 June 5, 1998) was an American writer and literary critic, many of whose writings depicted the immigrant experience in early twentieth century America.

Kazin is regarded as one of "The New York Intellectuals", and like many other members of this group he was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and attended the City College of New York. However, his politics were

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30 likes · 20 comments
“Yet it puzzled me that no one around me seemed to take God very seriously. We neither believed nor disbelieved. He was our oldest habit.” 2 likes
“Everything seems so small here now, old, mashed-in, more rundown even than I remember it, but with a heartbreaking familiarity at each door that makes me wonder if I can take in anything new, so strongly do I feel in Brownsville that I am walking in my sleep.” 0 likes
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