A new book by Lynn Shafer, “Stories from Brooklyn: Ancient Voices, Ritual Chants,” enlists masterful storytelling by an award-winning author to draw readers into 1940s family life in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Nine stories, all told through the perspective of a girl named Eva at various ages in her life, introduce readers to rich characters who are not defined by their times. Aunt Yetta is the colorful, Bohemian, black sheep of her family who lives in Greenwich Village. Eva’s mother, who emigrated as a child from Eastern Europe, is dark and guarded – seemingly traumatized by her strict Jewish upbringing. Eva herself, a candid narrator, is sensitive, often conflicted, and touched in many ways – good and bad – by her large family, including a twin brother who sometimes overshadows her.
“Each story stands on its own, but when read in succession, paints a holistic portrait of 1940s family life,” says Shafer, a longtime New York City English teacher, now retired. “In this work, I wished to create a chronicle of remembrances that resonates universal experiences.”
The first story in the book, “Ancient Voices, Ritual Chants,” at the time unpublished, was a runner-up for fiction in Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s 1995 annual competition. A proponent of oral history and works that can be read aloud, Shafer was also invited to read excerpts from the story at the prestigious 92nd Street Y in New York City.
Susanna Rich, a Kean University English professor and poet, praises Shafer’s craftsmanship and ability to evoke a full-sensory experience of 1940s family life in Brooklyn -- a uniquely situated time and place.
“What Roth did for Newark, Joyce for Dublin and Wolfe for London, Shafer does for Brooklyn,” Rich writes. “In this collection of carefully crafted stories, Lynn Shafer has created, with a distinctive voice, a body of work that is deeply moving, comic, inventive, and richly textured.”
Without intending to, Shafer promotes the benefits of 1940s family life: keeping family close, sharing values, learning from the victories and missteps of loved ones, understanding that we needn’t always like in order to love.
“I see today so many families where children grow up not knowing their aunts and uncles, their cousins, their grandparents,” Shafer says. “All of these people have a profound impact on how much of the world we’re exposed to as we form impressions and learn how to interact. These are people who, for the most part, love us! What better way to learn about the world?”