Up in the Bronx – Stephen Baum

12 Nov

 The whole world is terrible. And it’s beautiful at the same time. – Jack Isaacson

If you haven’t already perused the post Free Stuff And A Worry, But Free Stuff All The Same! you may want to check that out first for a bit of background on this review, for the rest of you I shall begin post-haste:

A Powerful first novel of a young man who “finds himself” by way of overcoming unexpected challenges: his exploits, his adventures, his redemption.  A love story as well – with a cast of poignant New York characters who come together to weave a charming yet dramatic story.

Recently the popularity of e-books and self published works has ballooned and when my mind turned to thinking of such things, I had in mind an image of the old penny dreadfuls (the 19th century serialised magazines that came out once a week for a penny, which were a cheaper alternative to the more expensive works featuring Dickens et al, not surprisingly the work was of poorer quality) whenever the topic was brought up.  Perhaps that idea is a true representation of the state of play and perhaps not, who am I to judge after reading just one book?

Up in the Bronx is unashamedly American, here we have the classic New York, the New York you recognise off TV and silver screen, the same feel and vibe but with one difference, reading through the book I got a more personal and affecting slant than other media is able to convey.  As the author grew up there it isn’t any real surprise of course but it does allow for a more affecting read and allowed this reader to plunge straight in and experience first hand the vibrancy surrounding The locale.

Not only are we brought into the world, but also the colloquial speech, of the ‘Bronxians’, which did take a few pages to get used too, sometimes rereading words until I started using a NY voice in my head, then things became a lot easier, similarly there is a bit of NY jargon as well but fears of it being impenetrable to a town dweller from England came to nothing, there is enough used to keep the realism going without overloading and bewildering people not used to the American system, unlike, say Stephen King who piles on the name dropping with reckless abandon.  The only thing that did break the flow however was the use of Jewish words which I had no understanding of and checking them out broke the flow of the book,  this is not a major problem, the book can be read without any referencing but being a completest I felt I had to find out what each one meant.

Despite any sort of language problems that may slow down the first few pages I found this book really easy to get into, every event that takes place no matter how dramatic is done with subtlety rather than in a drastic way. The understatedness of the whole book seems by definition to be the antithesis of the big, brash, noisy, violently coloured city of cliché.  It’s a clever juxtaposition, playing with the view the world holds of New York.

Another interesting take the author employs, certainly on this reader, is that I didn’t want bad things to happen to the characters, however morally reprehensible some of their actions arguably are,  I found myself liking the characters and sympathising with their life choices.  Each character is alone in their individual ways with a gulf  between themselves, others and the outside world at large which seems to echo how life is becoming in the 21st century.

I noticed many themes in the book, references to light, fading, artificial and natural which would seem to me to be a metaphor for the value of religion to each of the protagonists against a backdrop of their lives seemingly being devoid of a purpose even with their various beliefs.  The cycle of the seasons play a huge part too echoing the change of the characters feelings and lives, the NY breeze mentioned throughout sounding the winds of change, hinting at disparate ways of moving on.

In short this book appears to me as partly a celebration of those special amazing moments in life and the drama and tough moments that all mix to enrich our existence and make for emotive reminiscences in years to come, a reassurance that we are indeed infused with life. Couple that with a healthy disdain for society’s modern cultural values which come through strongly towards the end but also the feeling of hope and you have for one poignant read.

Nostalgia and love ooze out of this book and I for one enjoyed it immensely and read through it in a fairly small amount of uninterrupted hours.  I expected many things to happen which didn’t and this was a nice change from the usual predictable fare that is on the market.  If asked would I read more or Mr Baum’s work? Then yes I most certainly will.


Posted by on 12/11/2012 in Fiction


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17 responses to “Up in the Bronx – Stephen Baum

  1. boomiebol

    12/11/2012 at 16:36

    I knew you will so this respectfully, honestly and with brilliance. Well done Ste J. Another fine review


    • StetotheJ

      12/11/2012 at 16:41

      Thank you as ever Boomie, I spent a lot of time deliberating on the right words for this one. I am glad I have kept up to your high standard!


  2. LuAnn

    12/11/2012 at 16:44

    I’ll say it again, you should be writing book reviews for a living. This seems to be your calling. Terrific review!


    • StetotheJ

      12/11/2012 at 16:46

      I am hoping to go that way, I shall start doing all manner of writing to get something going and hopefully be in the writing industry (if that is the right word), in some sort of way. All compliments greatly appreciated although my slightly smug face is optional hehe.


  3. Bumba

    12/11/2012 at 16:58

    A very well-written review of a very well-wriiten book! Thank you, Steve. You saw a number of things I hadn’t noticed or intended. As for liking and identifying with the characters, I, of course, was already highly identified, but it’s good to hear you enjoyed them too. Sorry ’bout the Bronx slang. Despite all my elocution lessons, I couldn’t get any of those characters to talk normally.


    • StetotheJ

      12/11/2012 at 17:05

      Someone once said that old books rewrite new books (or something along those lines). It’s wonderful that from reading or just general life experiences I can make reading your book richer for myself, you and others with different points of view. I was wondering how long it would take me to get into the book, but it was about three pages in the end. The slang did help with the authenticity once I got used to it. I think on reflection i prefer the slang. Anyone who goes into someones world should have to work at understanding the lingo. It happens in real life all the time so there is another realistic element that helps rather than hinders the book. I always love characters apart, who are aware of their solitude. So in that reflection it was right up my alley. If you fancy popping any of this on the cover of any forthcoming novels or reprints. Please feel free.


      • Bumba

        12/11/2012 at 18:15

        Ever try Faulkner? That Southern dialect stuff takes some time to understand. I’m glad to hear you were able to get into my book easily, as I thought it builds slowly and doesn’t have the opening hooks or sensational stuff that the commercial books feature.


        • StetotheJ

          14/11/2012 at 21:05

          I haven’t read any yet although I am always on the look out for new authors to read, and challenges and Faulkner seems to fit both of those. Your book is a lot less predictable and doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to get you interested, always the sign of a superior read.


  4. letizia

    12/11/2012 at 18:48

    Wonderful review; I agree with the other commentators – you have a real gift! I’m always fascinated when I want to root for characters even if they do bad things 🙂


    • StetotheJ

      14/11/2012 at 21:07

      You are to kind! Characters who do bad things are always more interesting, I like to put myself in their position just for a bit. I’m not that adventurous in real life.


  5. Claire 'Word by Word'

    13/11/2012 at 07:39

    Great review and sounds like an interesting and authentic read.


    • StetotheJ

      14/11/2012 at 21:08

      It’s a lot more enjoyable than I hoped for. Self published books always seem pot luck in quality but happily I have read a very good one on my first go.


  6. pennycoho

    14/11/2012 at 08:21

    (smiling) I might say some wordy comments about what a well written review this is, because it is. But there really isn’t any reason too SteJ! Nailed it. I would very much like to read this book after reading your review of same! Thank you!


    • StetotheJ

      14/11/2012 at 21:14

      Always happy to throw ideas for books your way. I’m glad it meets with your approval. I did stare at it for a good whilst picking at my lip, before I posted. Comments wordy or not are always appreciated.


      • pennycoho

        16/11/2012 at 08:15

        Nut! It doesn’t “meet with my approval”, This was a well written review. I enjoyed it. And the book sounds like one I would really enjoy. 🙂


        • StetotheJ

          17/11/2012 at 16:24

          I wonder how many other self published gems are out there waiting to be discovered. Scary thought, but in a good way.



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