Flatbush Odyssey

by Allen Abel,
352 pages,
ISBN: 0771007035

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Brief Reviews - Non-Fiction
by David Homel

MY DICTIONARY informs me that an odyssey is "a long series of wanderings, especially when filled with notable adventures, hardships, etc." The most notable adventure that Allen Abel confronts in Flatbush Odyssey (McClelland & Stewart, 352 pages, $29.99 cloth), which chronicles his journey back home to Brooklyn, is his family, in the persons of his feisty, uncompromising mother and his socially dysfunctional sister, nicknamed Little Debbie (also the name of a mass-produced confection). Abel's relations with Mama are harder to describe than the changes wrought upon Brooklyn by the waves of immigration and changing racial demarcations, so he opts for the wider view and gives us a useful, detailed, engaging account of what has become of the Brooklyn he used to know.

Abel has been around the world as a reporter for the Globe and Mail, and he knows his craft. While reflecting on the everpresent danger of being mugged, he ventures into some pretty out-of-the-way places, and serves up aspects of Brooklyn history that few people know. He keeps returning to Brooklyn's sense of inferiority in relation to Manhattan, which, I suppose, is meant to stand for the author's own feelings of being in the world. Yet this book is no inner journey: it's the history of a borough rather than the history of the Abel family.

Some readers might wish that Abel had done more plumbing of the depths of the family complex, but he clearly did not set out to limit himself to that. True to his trade as a journalist, Abel gives us a wider, historical view of his home ground. Still, when the last page of Flatbush Odyssey is turned, the character who stays with us is his mother, Hennie Abel.


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