studies in travel writing

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Abel, Allen, Flatbush Odyssey: A Journey Through the Heart of Brooklyn (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995).

For his third book, Allen Abel, at the age of forty-three, decided to do a very daring thing - even for a journalist and foreign correspondent. He would move home to Brooklyn, live with his mother (in the same apartment in which he spent his childhood), and explore and write about the borough of his birth.

Accompanied sporadically by his thirty-something sister, known affectionately as 'LIttle Debbie,' he spent several months wandering along Flatbush Avenue, the thoroughfare that runs like a spine through Brooklyn - from the Manhattan Bridge all the way to a national part on the salt-water shore.

The result is a delightful family memoir and exploration of a unique borough by a wryly humorous observer with an eye for an unforgettable character and an ear for a good story. He hobnobs with Mohawk high-steel workers, tries to learn voodoo secrets from Haitian immigrants, commiserates with policemen detailed to the subway (also known as 'The Beast') or with beleagured shopkeepers, and chats with an ex-zookeeper in Prospect Park. he revists the scenes of his childhood, samples social life in distant Flatlands, and hunts for horseshoe crabs on the shoreline. He is a constant source of entertainment.

Flatbush Odyssey is a revelation - as are all fine travel books - and in it Allen Abel has produced a marvellous piece of storytelling. It is sure to appeal even to those benighted few who have never set foot in Brooklyn.

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