Old World Mysticism in '40S Brooklyn

Article excerpt

Snow In August

A novel by Pete Hamill

327 pages, Little Brown, $23.95 IN A TIME and place far removed from modern notions of multiculturalism - Brooklyn after World War II - Pete Hamill has set an evocative tale of growing up among the customs and cautions of many different backgrounds. The emotions and realistic details of "Snow in August," mixed in with Old World mysticism and modern American baseball, make the novel moving and enjoyable. Michael Devlin is an 11-year-old boy steeped in the Irish world of Ellison Street: Latin Mass, comic books, stickball and his beloved Dodgers. One winter's day, as a blizzard transforms his neighborhood, he comes into contact with Rabbi Judah Hirsch, an immigrant from Prague whose existence is defined by new surroundings and old pain. The unlikely pair begins an unusual friendship. Michael becomes the rabbi's Shabbas goy, performing tasks that Jews are not allowed to do on the Sabbath. He helps the rabbi learn English and baseball, and the rabbi teaches him the joys of Yiddish. As the rabbi notes, "Maybe it's true, that the Irish are the lost tribe of Israel." Both begin to expand their lives to a wider world. That world includes danger, in the person of the gang known as the Falcons and their leader, Frankie McCarthy, whose violent ways make Michael first a witness, then a victim. …