“Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem, is the first person narrative by Lionel Essrog residing in St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, struggling with Tourette’s syndrome, and growing up motherless in Brooklyn. His narrative, complete with Tourette’s ticks and exclamations, is witty, entertaining, and poetic. Essrog opens by describing the tragic turning point of his life, the murder of his friend and mentor, small time mobster Frank Minna. The pace of the story is relaxed yet purposeful. The language, all of it, including Essrog’s idiosyncrasies is beautifully lyrical and descriptive. Readers get to know Essrog well, and connect with him and his journey.
Life for Essrog will never be the same without Minna, and he proceeds to tell readers why. He is also determined to find Minna’s killer. Essrog takes readers on a journey through his past as he and his friends work for Frank Minna’s car service/detective agency while moving furniture, confiscating musical instruments, and doing other things that might or might not be legal. This is crime fiction, but without headache inducing trauma. It is written with a unique perspective and is a compelling, curious, and moving story as Essrog becomes a “real detective’ searching for justice for Minna. It is great storytelling from a unique point of view.
I listened to “Motherless Brooklyn” as an audio book narrated by Geoffrey Cantor who mastered the unique challenges of the language and dialogue and related Essrog’s story with simplicity and feeling. “Motherless Brooklyn” was also made into a 2019 award-winning film directed by Edward Norton.