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Publisher's Summary

Three generations of Roths live together in a crowded tenement flat. Long-widowed Manya is the family's head and its heart. She's renowned throughout the neighborhood for her cooking, and every noontime the front room of the flat turns into Manya's private restaurant. But Manya is no soft touch, except, perhaps, where her granddaughter Elka is concerned. Precocious Elka is her closest companion and confidante. Through Elka's eyes we come to know the fascinating characters who move in and out of the Roths' lives. Money may have been short, but opinions were not, and their tart tongues and lively humor abound. In this riveting story lies the heart of the American immigrant experience: a novel at once wise, funny, poignant, anguishing, exultant, and bursting with love.
©2005 Eleanor Widmer; (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

  • 2005 Audie Award Nominee, Solo Narration (Female)

"Poignant snapshot of a long-lost era and place....[This] first novel offers pungent, nostalgic vignettes of Jewish life on Manhattan's Lower East Side." (Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Story

Tenement Life From a Child's Point of View

As the author states in the afterward of the book-this book is part biography, part fiction and all true. It tells a sweeping story of living in poverty in the tenements of NYC through the eyes of young Elka. The book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at first. However, I can understand why it isn't on a youth reading list anywhere. This story is peppered with frank talk about sex, infidelity and off-color jokes. Much of this was unnecessary for the story. It is a shame that this content makes it inappropriate for young people because it is an engaging tale filled with growth, insight and change.

I agree with another reviewer that I would have liked a better time line. I found myself wondering what year it was when the action took place and hoping for an easier tracking of time progression. Instead there were vague mentions of "the war". Having firmer grounding in time would have made the story fit more easily into the world going on around it.

Lorna Raver, the narrator, did a great job. I really enjoyed her enthusiasm. It was a long book but the listening time flew by and my attention was held effortlessly. Parts of the book are difficult listening, as the poverty, chronic illness, filth and constant struggle are harsh realities. That said, it is a good story and I'm glad I listened.

32 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Carol
  • osprey, FL, United States
  • 08-15-09

My Life

Could not believe it, I still smell the sour pickles,nuts and dried fruits.The urine in the stairwells,my mother would hit the steps to scare the rats & the drunkes.I remeber my mother shoveling coal in some tenaments. Then we would get slippers in the lower eastside for 5 cents put them on the pushcart and sell for 20cents if we could get it. Classified as non-fiction for me. I remeber mom!To Life!

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Patti
  • Chittenango, NY, United States
  • 12-30-06

Another Favorite

The list just gets longer and longer of favorite books I have listened to. This one has definitely found a spot on that list.

Set in NYC with a Jewish immigrant family prior to, through, and after the Depression. We learn about three generations of a wonderful family as they triumph together. The vignettes are amusing, sad, real, and loving.

I do love ethnic tales because we can always find something in our own background to identify with, regardless of the culture. This is no exception.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Debbie
  • Toney, Alabama
  • 04-11-17

Down and Dirty 1930s Jewish Life in NY Tenements

Up from Orchard Street will go down as one of the best books I've come across or listened to . . . and for a number of reasons . . . always on the look out for stories that will give me insight to a different time and place, and a glimpse into the hearts and souls of people whose culture and experience are not the same as my own, this one is it . . . told from the point of view of young Elka, Grandmother Manya's favorite grandchild, whose curiosity and exuberance for life amazes and sometimes shocks those she comes in contact with, the story is told from a totally honest view point . . . no sugar coating, yet not vulgar in any way . . . sex is treated as any other part of life . . . why can't we all do that? . . . the wisdom of Manya and others of her generation puts me to shame . . . the beauty of life, so gently told, letting it unfold, like a rose, opening up, day by day, revealing it's inner loveliness . . . that's what this book is . . . and not holding on too tightly to the crushing blows of life . . . the illness, the deceit, the poverty . . . the horror that inevitably comes our way . . . this book is full of common sense, love and family . . . it would do everybody a world of GOOD to read it, take it in . . . and learn from it . . .

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Carolyn
  • jackson, WY, United States
  • 08-25-11

Engaging Story and Great Narrator

This book was highly engaging. I thought I wasn't going to like it, but after about 40 minutes it started to get really good. I loved the characters and the narrator did an awesome job of turning them to life. The best part was that it was based on the author's true life story. Its well worth the time and credit spent.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ellen
  • Petersham, MA, United States
  • 01-16-10

More than a Memoir

I bought this book, started it and then put it aside for more than a year. Why? I guess it started out to be one of those "heartwarming" coming-of-age books and I wasn't in the mood. I came back to it by accident and was drawn in by the horrors and wonders of life in New York's Lower East Side just before WWII. The dialogue is convincing, the narration is wonderful and the emergence of the character of the mother, Lil, is astonishing.
The author died at the age of 80 just after finishing the final revisions of this book - her first novel. It is a shame that there won't be a second.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • orlando, FL, USA
  • 10-20-08

Loved Every Second

That narrator was excellent, accents just like I remembered growing up in NY. I highly recommend this audiobook.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Angie
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 07-09-08


I love books told from the point of view of a child. They are truly amazing. Like The Secret Lives of Bees and The Book Thief, this book is the world through the eyes of a 6-14 year old growing up in 1930'2 New York in a Jewish Ghetto. It is about family and the strong ties that bind us to those we love, both blood and friends. This is an excellent story and the characters are lovely. The narrator is EXCELLENT. She did the variety of people, ages, accents with ease. I highly recommend this story.

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • MEMcL
  • Carlsbad, CA
  • 04-17-07

A delightful book

This is a charming and heart-warming book. The characters are beautifully portrayed by the reader and her accented dialogue adds to the pleasure of the book. My background is very different from the NYC Jewish culture and yet I could relate so well to the family. I loved the characters and I really hope that there will be a sequel.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • LK
  • Texas
  • 06-14-09

Wonderful Tale!

My recent experiences in both reading and listening to books had left me concerned because nothing was captivating me. This book changed that. I loved this book. The author weaves a tale of an immigrant woman and her family. They are all flawed and they are all wonderful. The narrator's use of a variety of accents and speech patterns brought my back to my youth in New York. Although my ancestors immigrated from a similar place, under similar circumstances, their life in New York was very different in both location and details. This was all new to me and a wonderful journey through the characters lives. I believe that regardless of your experience or background you will enjoy watching these characters evolve.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful