A literary icon’s “singular and beautiful” memoir of growing up as a first-generation Jewish American in Brownsville, Brooklyn (The New Yorker).
A classic portrait of immigrant life in the early decades of the twentieth century, A Walker in the City is a tour of tenements, subways, and synagogues—but also a universal story of the desires and fears we experience as we try to leave our small, familiar neighborhoods for something new.
With vivid imagery and sensual detail—the smell of half-sour pickles, the dry rattle of newspapers, the women in their shapeless flowered housedresses—Alfred Kazin recounts his boyhood walks through this working-class community, and his eventual foray across the river to “the city,” the mysterious, compelling Manhattan, where treasures like the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum beckoned. Eventually, he would travel even farther, building a life around books and language and literature and exploring all that the world had to offer.
“The whole texture, color, and sound of life in this tenement realm . . . is revealed as tapestried, as dazzling, as full of lush and varied richness as an Arabian bazaar.” —The New York Times
About the Author
Alfred Kazin (June 5, 1915 – June 5, 1998) was an American writer and literary critic. He wrote often about the immigrant experience in early twentieth-century America. Like many of the other New York Intellectuals, Alfred Kazin was the son of Jewish immigrants, born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and a graduate of the City College of New York. However, his politics were more moderate than most of the New York Intellectuals, many of whom were socialists.
Kazin was deeply affected by his peers' subsequent disillusion with socialism and liberalism. Adam Kirsch writes in The New Republic that "having invested his romantic self-image in liberalism, Kazin perceived abandonment of liberalism by his peers as an attack on his identity".
He wrote out of a great passion—or great disgust—for what he was reading and embedded his opinions in a deep knowledge of history, both literary history and politics and culture. In 1996 he was awarded the first Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award in Literary Criticism, which carries a cash reward of $100,000. As of 2014, the only other person to have won the award was George Steiner. Kazin was friends with Hannah Arendt.
Kazin's son from his second marriage is historian and Dissent co-editor Michael Kazin. Alfred Kazin married his third wife, the writer Ann Birstein, in 1952, and they divorced in 1982; their daughter is Cathrael Kazin, who is a managing partner at Volta Learning Group. Kazin married a fourth time, and is survived by his widow, the writer Judith Dunford.