Two Cents Plain
My Brooklyn Boyhood
By Martin Lemelman
(Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781608190041, 320pp.)
Publication Date: August 31, 2010
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Martin Lemelman's elegiac and bittersweet graphic memoir Two Cents Plain collects the memories and artifacts of the author's childhood in Brooklyn. The son of Holocaust survivors, Lemelman grew up in the back of his family's candy store in Brownsville during the 1950s and '60s, as the neighborhood, and much of the city, moved into a period of deep decline. In Two Cents Plain, Lemelman pieces together the fragments of his past in an effort to come to terms with a childhood that was marked by struggle both in and outside of the home. But his was not a childhood wholly without its pleasures. Lemelman's Brooklyn is also the nostalgic place of egg creams and comic books, malteds and novelty toys, where the voices of Brownsville's denizens—the deli man, the fish man, and the fruit man—all come to vivid life. Between the lingering strains of the Holocaust and the increasing violence on the city's streets, Two Cents Plain reaches its dramatic climax in 1968, as Lemelman's worlds explode, forcing him and his family to re-create their lives. Through his stirring narrative and richly rendered black-and-white drawings, family photographs, and found objects, Lemelman creates a lush, layered view of a long-lost time and place, the chronicle of a family and a city in crisis. Two Cents Plain is a wholly unique memoir and a reading experience not soon forgotten.
Martin Lemelman is the author/illustrator of Mendel's Daugher and has illustrated over 30 children's books, and his work has been published in magazines ranging from the New York Times Book Review to Sesame Street magazine. A professor in the Communication Design Department at Kutztown University, he lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania with his wife, Monica, and is the father of four sons.
- The author, Martin Lemelman, chooses to tell much of the story in the voices of his deceased parents. Why does he make this choice? Do you think that he interviewed them in advance or just imagined what they would have to say? Do you think it’s effective?