Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Famous Nathan

Author: Lloyd Handwerker
Stars: 5
Review by: Mandy Apgar

Very wonderful and an extremely pleasant surprise. Usually I find biographies written by descendants to be very self serving but this had a perfect tone and gave an excellent cultural history of Coney Island and the shore region. When Nathan Handwerker arrived in the USA he wanted to make good, especially in the restaurant business. Starting work at age 11 in a bakery he became (some would say) obsessed with the quality of ingredients and was desperate to work his way up. Finding jobs at a variety of luncheonettes got his foot in the door and Nathan indeed was a very hard worker - saving much of his money for his future goals. Soon the opportunity came when he and a friend visited Coney Island and Nathan bought a small section of counterspace intent on selling the best darn Kosher style hotdogs he could. Ten cents a dog couldn't get him business though, and he bumped it down to five. Soon the crowds came and as his business expanded Nathan hired extra family members as well as the lovely and industrious Ida - a friend of his sister. The two married and had a daughter and two sons, but Ida stayed by his side and together the business grew. When a customer scolded him for not having a sign when he was so famous he put up a "Nathan's" wood board out, soon expanding the name to "Nathan's Famous." While his family grew (and bickered) up in back of that ever expanding counter Coney Island itself changed as the times did too. Soon Nathan found himself the father of two embittered sons not fond of the other (the author is the son of one, thusly Nathan's grandson) and a daughter depressed that she was not allowed a bigger share of the business. Nathan passed of a heart attack right around the time fortunes began to turn for his beloved Coney - the book is very condemning of Trump's father for more or less destroying the area's culture (which a friend of mine who is the barker at the freak show says is universal sentiment) afterwards. Altogether a very good account of a hardworking, albeit flawed man who wanted to make good.

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