”… a classic coming of age story set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s.” from a review by Zara Raab in the Sacramento Book Review, August 2010.
Two Cents Plain by Martin Lemelman (born in 1950) is a “sequel” to his earlier memoir Mendel’s Daughter (the subject of an earlier post) which was the story of his mother’s experience hiding in Poland during World War II. Two Cents Plain starts with a recap of his mother living in a hole in the ground in Poland with her siblings. When the war was over she made her way to the Neu-Freiman Displaced Person’s Camp in Germany where she met Tovia Lemelman who had spent the war as a soldier in the Soviet Army only to return home to find no one alive. They married in the camp. She pointed out many did because they were all in a hurry to start anew. Soon they made their way to America and eventually settled in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn where they bought a candy store. They worked in it day and night.
The family lived in a very small apartment in the back of the store and it is the setting of Brownsville, the store and the family that is focus of this memoir. Because Lemelman is an artist/illustrator by profession – he has illustrated many children’s books - the memoir is rich in detailed illustration of the neighborhood and fellow small merchants, of the store, of the egg creams and sundaes his father made, and of the cramped and insect-infested apartment. It is not a conventional graphic memoir in that Lemelman does not draw cartoons, but rather, black and white illustrations, often superimposing photographs and images of actual documents. In “quoting” his parents, he replicates immigrant speech that is full of Yiddish vocabulary and inflection. He also includes Yiddish sayings along with their translations at the beginning of chapters.
Lemelman describes his parents as exhibiting some of the classic behavior of Holocaust survivors and immigrants. They threw themselves into their work; they were morose and hard to please. His father’s goal had not been to own a candy story. He had tried to be a chicken farmer in Youngsville, NY, but it didn’t work out financially in the short term and his wife hated not being in a city in the middle of a Jewish community. He felt diminished. In Poland he had been the respected manager of a mill.
Each of Lemelman's two memoirs, Mendel's Daughter and Two Cents Plain, stands alone, but they are more interesting read together.
To see photos taken at the Neu-Freiman Displaced Persons Camp in the collection of the US Holocaust Museum click here.
To watch a video of an interview with Martin Lemelman about Two Cents Plain click here.
Note: A more complete genealogy can be found in the post on Mendel’s Daughter
Author’s family on maternal side
Mendel and Malka - author’s grandparents
Simon – Mendel’s son by first wife
Jenny – married Fievel
Eli – their son
Regina – their daughter
Gusta (Goldie) – married Tovia (Teddy) Lemelman
Bernard – their son
Martin – their son; married Monica; author
Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York City
Youngsville, New York