I had some time to kill before a tour of the Tenement Museum, so I walked to the Museum at Eldridge Street. And I am glad I did. What a remarkable place! The history of the synagogue and the story of its renovation – which continues to this day – is incredible. It is just a beautiful vibrant place, and this book does a great of taking the reader through its restoration. The photographs are great, and the attention to detail is appreciated. If you are visiting the Lower East Side, be sure to stroll through Chinatown and check this place out. Kiki Smith’s window alone is worth the price of admission.
The subtitle of this book, An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, is somewhat misleading (to the detriment of the book, I think). The focus is not really on the families, but they are used to represent the kind of cuisine their culture brought to the United States. So the personal elements are largely superficial. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of interesting pieces of this book. I enjoyed how Ziegelman set the scenes of the Lower East Side in broad strokes. I also appreciated her myth-busting when it came to food / cultural stereotypes.
Still, the book lacks any kind of narrative drive and comes across as a bit too dry. It reads more like a sociological study in 5 chapters. Maybe it was her dissertation. It was good background reading in preparation for a visit to the Tenement Museum, but otherwise. . .