Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block
By Judith Matloff
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780812978988, 304pp.)
Publication Date: July 14, 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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After twenty years as a foreign correspondent in tumultuous locales, Judith Matloff is ready to return to her native New York City and start a family with her husband, John. Intoxicated by West Harlem’s cultural diversity and, more important, its affordability, Judith impulsively buys a stately fixer-upper brownstone in the neighborhood–only to discover that this dream house was once a crack den and that calling it a “fixer upper” is an understatement. Thus begins the couple’s odyssey to win over brazen drug dealers, delinquent construction workers, and eccentric neighbors in one of the biggest drug zones in the country. It’s a far cry from utopia, but it’s a start, and Judith and John do all they can to carve out a comfortable life–and, over time, come to appreciate the neighborhood’s rough charms. A wry, reflective, and hugely entertaining memoir, Home Girl is for anyone who has longed to go home, however complicated the journey.
Judith Matloff is a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She was a foreign correspondent for twenty years, lastly as the bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor in Africa and Moscow. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, Newsweek, and The Dallas Morning News, and she is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant, a Fulbright fellowship, and the Godsell, the Monitor’s highest accolade for correspondence. Matloff still lives in West Harlem with her husband and son.
“Matloff tells a compelling story of reclamation...Her writing is as brilliant as a crystal chandelier, her pacing as quick as a skip down her multistoried staircase. “—Christian Science Monitor
"Matloff is a writing pro, sprightly and thorough in her characterizations."—Publishers Weekly
"a hugely entertaining memoir about family, community and real estate"—Tucson Citizen
"delightful and humorous...Matloff is a superb storyteller" —Rocky Mountain News
"Matloff blends humor with considerable storytelling skills" —Library Journal
“[Matloff] avoids nonfiction chick-lit cliché, even when describing such milestones as 9/11 or her pregnancy; her journalistic curiosity and lightly self-deprecating touch keep the book from becoming an uptown safari for the Elle Decor set. She rarely focuses on herself or even the house, but rather on her thrilling, problem-plagued neighborhood, colorfully portrayed in terms that are neither frightened nor naïve. A loving, stirring portrait of the American cultural mosaic.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Although I always suspected that renovating a house in New York City would be a slightly more harrowing undertaking than dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, it took this charming story to convince me it also could be more entertaining. Except for the plumbing. That's one adventure I couldn't survive."—Michelle Slatalla, author of The Town on Beaver Creek
“After years of covering wars overseas, Judith Matloff takes her boundless courage and inimitable style to the front lines of America's biggest city. From her vantage point in a former crack house in West Harlem, she brings life to a proud community held hostage by drug dealers and forgotten by policy makers. Matloff's sense of humor, clear reportage and zest for adventure never fails. Home Girl is part gritty confessional, part love story, and totally delightful.”—Bob Drogin, author of Curveball
“Here the American dream of home ownership takes on the epic dimensions of the modern pioneer in a drug raddled land. Matloff's story, which had me crying and laughing, is a portrait of a household and a community, both extending far beyond the specifics of west Harlem to the universal--like all well told stories do.”—Martha McPhee, author of L’America
"a poignant memoir"—TimeOut NY
"a hugely entertaining memoir"—Tucson Citizen
“Home Girl : Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block is less about the house and more about the block and is as likely to appeal to social activists as to serial renovators.”—Belle Elving, Washington Post