Lucienne Bloch says, rightly, that “a person’s past is always present, although retrieving it isn’t easy.” In this collection of personal essays, she makes acts of retrieval and remembering seem graceful, at times heroic, and always revelatory. Her writing is scintillating and also moving, as she reconstructs a life that began abroad and continued in Manhattan just as post-War America was becoming a place to reckon with, and New York the best city in which to come of age. She conjures a mythic time and place, as a reader, a looker, a walker in the city; as a daughter of immigrants, a mother, a collector of words; above all as a writer alert equally to past and present, to the world without and the spirit within.
- Willard Spiegelman
WHISTLING IN THE DARK brims with fascinating lost worlds and found ones, and the result is moving, lyrical, witty, and always absorbing. These essays shimmer with intelligence and life, and I am so glad to have spent time in Lucienne Bloch's vivid present and past.
- Meg Wolitzer
Bloch muses on growing up as an immigrant in New York City in this collection of essays.
In this self-described “refugee’s tale of internalized outsiderhood,” the celebrated author offers readers an eclectic collection of 19 essays that blend memoir with broader observations on topics that span from isolation to typewriters. Many of the pieces focus on her childhood as a Belgian immigrant whose family fled Nazi Europe during World War II and settled in New York City. The introductory entry, “An Island Education,” recounts Bloch’s childhood quest to not only learn English, but to perfect its “peppy affable voice,” which she contrasts with the “hissy dignity” of her native French.
She believed that the language had “magical powers” and that after mastering it, she “would be transformed, an American.” Yet, despite a successful career writing in English, she notes that it has yet “to make me a real American.” Adolescent longings to belong are at the center of “Sounding the Territory,” which touches on Bloch’s love of periodicals; Life Magazine gave the European-born Manhattanite a glimpse into the “real whole big thing” of America, from evangelical revivals in the South to Midwestern bake-offs. Even the “Anglophile-Ivy-Establishment” New Yorker introduced her to a world “that was as foreign to my experience as hot rodding on a highway in Texas.” Other essays explore topics ranging from her brief babysitting career working for novelist Howard Fast, who had recently been targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his affiliation with the Communist Party, to her father’s career in the diamond trade. The recipient of multiple poetry awards, author of two novels, and columnist for the New York Times, Bloch is a talented writer whose prose effectively balances an erudite writing style with accessibility. Though its stories are based on the author’s unique experiences, the book eloquently captures global feelings of adolescent optimism, postmodern ennui, and the ubiquity of alienation among immigrants. Fans of Bloch may be left wanting more recollections pertaining to her writing career and work inside New York’s publishing industry.
A moving collection that uses memoir to explore universal human experiences.