I don’t know how many of you have read Lily Brett’s books but I, for one, love this author. I met her several years ago when she was in Hobart for the book launch of Lola Bensky, I believe it was. Lily Brett was raised in Melbourne to Jewish parents that survived life in Auschwitz during World War II. However her grandparents on both sides and many aunts and uncles did not survive. She has written quite a bit about being the child of Holocaust survivors over her writing career and the common traits that seem to follow these children.
When I think of having parents who survived the death camps of WWII, I often think you could never complain to them about anything. Being bored during the school holidays or not being able to buy that latest dress just wouldn’t hold any weight at all. From what I have read there is also quite a bit of guilt children of surviving parents face due to constantly thinking about what happened to them.
Her parents raised her to believe there was no God. I guess if one witnessed what they did during the death camps of World War II, one would certainly be inclined to being atheistic. Why would a merciful God allow this to happen? But before anyone who has faith bombards me with an argument, this is not what this post is about.
Lily Brett moved to New York City more than 25 years ago with her second husband, an Australian painter, David Rankin and they have three children. She now considers herself as much a New Yorker as an Australian. I just finished her book Only in New York. It is a book filled with anecdotes divided into chapters of her experiences and thoughts about New York. It is a very funny book.
I have always loved books about New York City. However, for as much travelling as I have done in this word, touring 6 continents, I have yet to visit New York City. I know, I know. When I was a preteen I read the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I then went on to read everything Betty Smith ever wrote, though I forget all the titles now.
That book was the first book that put me in Brooklyn and allowed me to explore New York from that perspective. I loved it. After that I would read anything I could about New York City. I have a vision of what old New York City is like. The shops, the multi-cultural food, the quirkiness of the people, all the policemen named Patrick O’Mallory or something similar and the smells of the subway. I also love bookshop stories of New York. I often think if I actually visited the city, all my images I carry in my head would be ruined. I’d probably see a lot of chain stores and foul weather. Or heat. Terrible, penetrating heat. I often prefer my visions of what I think New York city is. I may still get there one day, but I have to admit, I am not in a hurry.
Lily lives in Manhattan in a lovely apartment filled with ‘stuff’. She talks about all of it. She talks of her daily walks, her husband who loves her and tolerates her eccentricities. Her father lives there. He is in his 90’s at the time this book was written and very much alive. She talks of her parents often and how she misses her mother. She talks about Jewish life and the traits of such, especially as it relates to life in New York City.
She writes about people who hold grudges, cafes, fashion she enjoys, New York psychics and the various eccentric people she encounters. There is a funny chapter about her lack of understanding of the animal world. I laughed out loud when she talked about camels and what their humps are for. I won’t spoil this with the actual paragraph, but I did reread it a couple of times so I could enjoy the laugh.
Lily Brett has a long list of memoirs and novels she has written. Mr. Penguin enjoyed two of her novels, Between Mexico and Poland as well as Too Many Men. They linger on my shelves waiting for my turn to read them. I remember loving her book Lola Bensky, the part fictional, part true experiences of being in her late teens following the music scene in England working as a junior journalist. She has met many rock stars of the time and her anecdotes of that time were both really interesting to someone of my generation and hilarious. I also enjoyed another book of her memoirs by chapters, You Gotta Have Balls.
Only in New York reminded me a great deal of the book Helene Hanff wrote of her daily life in New York City in Apple of my Eye. That was a fun book to read but Lily’s is much funnier. She has a very wry sense of humour that sometimes drips with sarcasm as she describes daily life in such a large, populated city in the Jewish community.
If you haven’t tried her books I think you might consider her for 2019. If you have, I’d love to know what you thought of the books you read.
Lily Brett- Only in New York. Published in 2014