Cover image for Bronx boy : a memoir
Bronx boy : a memoir
Charyn, Jerome.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
184 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3553.H33 Z4618 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Jerome Charyn's three-part memoir of his boyhood in the Bronx has all the imagery and color of an enchanting and entertaining novel -- someone has said that it captures the author's world so accurately that it can't possibly be true. Bronx Boy , like The Dark Lady of Belorusse and The Black Swan , both selected by The New York Times as Notable Books of the Year, is a tour de force of memory and imagination. In this third and final installment, the higher truths of a masterly writer's art render moot the question of exactly where the real world ends and Charyn's imagined world begins.

Still known as "Baby" although a younger brother has come along, young Charyn makes pocket money delivering eggs, belongs to a group of 12-year-old wannabe gangsters that meet in a soda shop run by an ex-con, and spends afternoons telling stories to the adoring wife of a wealthy Russian migr . He becomes famous for his black-and-tans -- a concoction of coffee ice cream, seltzer, milk, chocolate sauce, crushed pecans -- and "a touch of bitterness that may have been the Bronx." So famous, indeed, that he walks away the winner of an annual black-and-tan contest sponsored by the real-life top gangster called "The Little Man" -- Meyer Lansky.

In Charyn's hands, the often ridiculed Bronx is a magic place, as full of odd and wonderful characters as a three-ring circus. And at the center of it all, young "Baby," not as lucky in love as he would like to be, drinking it all in, putting his own extraordinary take on it. Charyn looks back at this with his singular vision, and records it all for us with the skill of the fine writer he is. This is a delightful and often moving story of a childhood that could only have been lived in New York in the fifties, a New York experience that could only have taken place in the Bronx of those days, a growing-up saga that could only have been captured by this singular author.

Author Notes

Jerome Charyn was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1937. An author who primarily writes detective stories, Charyn's novels contain a wide array of characters ranging form a gorgeous, headstrong double agent to a greedy, corrupt lawyer. Charyn chronicles the life of Isaac Sidel El Caballo, the Mayor of New York City, in over half a dozen books, including El Bronx, Little Angel Street, Marilyn the Wild, and The Good Policeman. Among his latest novels is The Secret Life of emily Dickinson. The story is told from her point of view and incorporates both historical and fictional characters to tell what she may have been like. His next work was entitled Under the Eye of God.

Widely translated, Charyn's novels have broad readership in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Japan, as well as the United States. Charyn lives in Paris where he teaches cinema at the American University of Paris.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This very funny and almost hallucinatory "memoir" is, as Charyn states, "inspired" by his memories but quite fictionalized. It is written in an arc of feverish adolescent hormonal tumescence, as Charyn at 13, then called "Baby," recalls the egg man, the luscious and drug-addled Sarah Dove, the gangster Lansky, and his own sort-of gang in the Bronx of the early 1950s. Baby Charyn protects Sarah Dove from her johns, makes black-and-tan sodas better than anyone, and finds time to read to Faigele, his mother, who is going blind. Gambling, rumbling, and drug dealing spring from these pages, along with Masha the Russian aristocrat, Miranda the gang Amazon, class wars from the Grand Concourse to Crotona, and lust--always lust. Words are Baby's weapon, for the most part, and he wields his storytelling as a sword and as a shield from the force of his memories. You may not believe a word of it, but you will enjoy the ride. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

By age 14, Jerome "Baby" Charyn had been hired by Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky to mix ice cream sodas. He'd established an on-again, off-again relationship with a gang headed by a heroin addict and pimped for the gang leader's girlfriend. He was familiar with Flaubert and Dostoyevski. He'd helped his blind mother (who looked like Joan Crawford) to deal a better hand of poker and, as a pimp, earned a better salary than his father (who looked like Clark Gable). Charyn, the author of more than 30 books, mostly fiction, writes this final installment of his three-part memoir (after The Black Swan and Captain Kidd) in fast, darting sentences: "I danced with Anita, her chest against mine. I was the luckiest lad at junior high. But there wasn't even a stirring in my pants. I was like a neutered cat." His affection for the East Bronx of his childhood is clear, and he turns it into a mythic place ("It began to feel like some angel was protecting the gang; each one of us had an angel on his shoulder..."). Despite a disclaimer at the end, though ("certain characters, places, and incidents portrayed in the book are the product of imaginative re-creation"), the book sometimes strains credulity, and the characters occasionally feel too alike. Still, there is no denying Charyn's storytelling abilities, and readers of the trilogy's first two volumes will enjoy this third dose of Bronx lore. (July 11) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This is the third memoir by Charyn, author of more than 30 books, including the Isaac Sidel crime series. The other memoirs are The Dark Lady from Belorusse and The Black Swan. The narrator is Baby Charyn, an unsupervised adolescent in the 1940s Bronx. The young tough, who had never left the borough, appears magically in one neighborhood or another without so much as boarding a trolley car, bus, or subway. Written in the tabloid prose of the Sidel genre, it is a similarly adolescent boy's fantasy depicting one-dimensional characters. Women here are sexually available and find Baby irresistible. Men fall under his mother's spell. The story lacks some context and depth and at times gets facts wrong or distorts them. Charyn misnames a borough president and a Bronx hospital and mentions a juvenile detention center that did not yet exist. He also omits a significant Jewish perspective. One neighborhood boy spent years in a refugee camp, writes Charyn, but where and why is unexplained. Faigele, Charyn's Eastern European mother, a celebrated card dealer, spoke Russian, he writes. In reality, however, she more likely conversed in Yiddish with the other Bronx Jews. Recommended for Charyn fans. Elaine Machleder, Bronx, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.