Novelist Jerome Charyn, a New York City native and admirer, takes the reader on an autobiographical tour of the metropolis. For the author, New York is a city of immigrants. Fittingly, therefore, the book begins with his reflections on Ellis Island, its history, physical appearance, and, most importantly, its psychological impact on those seventeen million people, including Charyn’s father, who passed through its Great Hall.
Other stops on the tour include a sex palace in Times Square, Avenues A through D at the tip of Manhattan, various city parks, and the now closed older portion of Bellevue Hospital. In each instance, Charyn seeks to show not only the landscape but also the inscape, the history surrounding the places, the people who live and work there, and the meaning that these locations have.
In the course of these travels, one meets city officials such as the mayor, police commissioner, commissioner of parks, and the chancellor of New York’s public schools. Charyn also introduces other figures who are no less important in shaping the city: the art dealers gentrifying a former slum; Robert Hayes, a Wall Street lawyer now battling for better shelter for the homeless; Douglas Leigh, who has literally lit up New York.
Charyn does not ignore the city’s problems with those whom Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty invites--the homeless, the poor, the politically displaced. For all its faults, though, New York remains for Charyn and his readers the magical city of dreams where a boy from the slums can become King Koch, where ghosts of the past haunt the streets, and where the only constant is change.