Day My Mother Changed Her Name and Other Stories by William D. Kaufman.
In these thirty short stories, we have thirty slivers of life as lived by William D. Kaufman over the better part of the 20th century. Written from a desk in the lounge of the assisted-living center in which Kaufman currently resides, the author has made his time and place in the world sing and dance its way to life. The stories are semi-autobiographical, many of them set during his childhood, but the immediacy and intimacy of the writing make the events feel as if they are occurring as the reader turns the page. Evocative of an era, one can taste the flavors, smell the scents and see the sights that Kaufman describes; all this is presented with an economy of language and a talent for finding the perfect phrase at the perfect time.
The author started writing in his nineties and his look back at the past is mellow, forgiving, and filled with humor. We see the day World War I ended through his long-ago child's eyes; his big sister's reactions are more important than the day's grand events. We experience his first day of cheder, his first cigarette, and his immigrant mother's encounter with a bigoted public school teacher (as well as the mother's ultimate subtle but brilliant victory!). We are there for his induction into the Army at the start of World War II and his return to Italy many years after having been stationed there. And we hear about his present life as a resident in an assisted-living facility where he has allowed his creativity to blossom and flourish for the benefit of us all. In a modest and unassuming style, Kaufman entertains and enlightens us. This book is a gem.
How much all of us loved it when an older relative would tell stories about how things were many years ago when they were young. What fun to see the storyteller as a child and get to know all the relatives and neighbors we only know by name, but never met. How lucky we are that Kaufman turned his storytelling abilities into a book for us to read ourselves.