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December 02, 2010 - Image 62

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-12-02

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Home Is Where the Heart Longs to Be: An Essay

By Danielle Platt

n his timeless novel The Brook Kerith,
the revered Irish author George Moore
writes, "Man travels the world over in
search of what he needs and returns
home to find it."
That sentiment, when viewed
through the prism of my current cir-
cumstances (living thousands of miles
— and millions of cultural differences
— away from where I grew up), makes
me wonder what it means to call some-
place "home:"
A Detroit girl born and raised, Oak-
land County is where my heart lay until
the watershed moment of high school
graduation; four years of college close
to home, in Ann Arbor, gave me little
perspective of the world beyond my
backyard — although I wasn't aware of
it at the time.
It was my move abroad to attend an
Israeli medical school when I first real-
ized growing up in Metropolitan Detroit
had cloistered me
in a Great Lakes
Up to that point I
had been shielded
from the unsettling
reality that many
people — upon
learning where
I grew up —im-
mediately jump to
disturbing conclu-
sions about my
hometown, most of
which manifest in
statements resem-


tiling, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
I recognize those comments are more
a result of ignorance than malice; the
sheer mention of Detroit to people not
from there evokes images of the 1967
riot and 8 Mile (damn you, Eminem!).
To the unfamiliar, Detroit is a waste-
land, where the elderly and infirm fear
leaving the safety of home for risk of
being caught in a gang-related crossfire,
and an economic disaster.
I am consistently caught off guard by
the notion that most people do not see
Detroit the way I do.
Growing uap, I may have been one
of the few who never felt a burning
desire to escape small-town suburbia
for bigger, better and faster. However,
part of me was always jealous of my
peers who lived their fabulous lives in
the fabulous fast lanes of the American
urban centers.
I secretly wondered what it would be
like to move away and create a
cosmopolitan, New York, funky-
fresh version of myself. Yet,
now that I have made the big
move, living outside of Detroit

has only strengthened my affection for
the city.
Living in Tel Aviv, where the sun
always shines, the buses always run and
the people always complain, has made
me appreciate temperate weather,
private transportation and the Midwest-
ern twang more than I ever believed
Oh, how I ache for a Franklin Cider
Mill doughnut and my Ugg boots! Now,
when I think about my early years, I
am overcome with tenderness for the
Rouge River ravine where my friends
and I carved our initials into a felled tree
during Indian summer.
I long for the strangely fulfilling
pain that was a constant threat during
neighborhood-wide snowball fights;
those days typically ended with some-
one sporting a handsome shiner.
I miss my quiet West Bloomfield sub-
division, my local Starbucks barista, my
family, my home.
Yet, for all the fond memories and
longing for familiarity, I used to ques-
tion my peers who relinquished lives in
America's bustling concrete jungles and

"Home is where you carved
your name into a tree when
you were 12 years old."

— Danielle Platt

returned to Detroit. They bought homes
in the same zip code in which they once
lived and had children who would in-
evitably attend the same schools where
they once suffered.
I was suspicious of their apparent
lack of independence, their need to run
home to mommy because the city was
too loud. Yet, now I understand. Living
abroad has taught me that we can strut
down big-city streets in our big-city
clothes and our big-city attitudes all we
Home is where you fell off your bike
and skinned your knee on the way to
your best friend's house, where you ran
into your kindergarten teacher at your
local supermarket.
At the end of an arduous journey,
home is where you carved your
name into a tree when you were
12 years old. R T

DANIELLE PLATT is a first-year medical student

at Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University

in Israel.


Deadly Scare

In Nemesis, polio sweeps through the fictionalized
playgrounds of 1944 Newark in vintage Roth fashion.

By Yoni Apap


hilip Roth's latest novel, Nemesis
(Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt), brings
us back to a familiar Roth location,
World War II-era Newark, this time set-
tling in to relive the polio epidemic that
swept through that city's playgrounds
and public pools throughout the spring
and summer of 1944.
Roth's protagonist is Bucky Cantor, a
hardworking 23-year-old gym teacher
who is offered up as a near-embodi-
ment of television anchor Tom Brokaw's
"Greatest Generation."
Earnest, powerfully built, athletic,
hardworking and believing that dili-
gence is the cure for all, Bucky also cares
deeply for his youthful charges.
This near-cartoonish perfection is
belied by Bucky's sense of failure, for his

Philip Roth

20 December 2010 I

up mum

awful eyesight has precluded him from
following the rest of his generation into
World War II.
Instead, the bespectacled lad takes a
summer job as a playground coordina-
tor in Newark, with hundreds of local
Jewish children as his charges, from
near dawn to dusk, during the peak
of what will become one of the most
pernicious polio epidemics of the 20th
As children begin to fall ill, and in
some cases die, and as parents and
families look to blame almost anyone
for their loss — from the nearby Italian
community, to a hot dog stand, to the
local developmentally disabled man, to
Bucky himself — Bucky comes to feel
increasingly ambivalent about his role

as protector to these children.
When his girlfriend Marcia calls from
her job as a camp counselor in the
Poconos to say that a job has opened
up for which Bucky would be ideal,
he initially struggles with his sense of
duty, though fewer kids come to the
playground each day.
The appeal of a job in the mountains,
away from Newark and close to the
intoxicating Marcia, is too great to resist.
Bucky quits his job and goes to the
Poconos, where everything — from the
children to the air and even the facilities
— seems salubrious and glitteringly
That is, until the first camper is
infected with polio — and Bucky comes
to fear he is to blame for both his ailing
students back in Newark and for bring-
ing the infection into the Eden-esque
The ensuing tragedy, Roth suggests,
is entirely Bucky's fault but perhaps not
for the reasons to which Bucky Cantor
Those expecting the profane Roth
of Portnoy's Complaint or The Human
Stain will be deeply disappointed by
Nemesis, which feels almost painfully
earnest. The style seems antiquated;
Bucky is called "Mr. Cantor" throughout
the first half of the book, no doubt
because the story is narrated by one of
Bucky's infected charges. But the effect,
likely intended, is to make the book feel
formal, a relic of the 1940s itself.

We are on more familiar ground when
we see how Roth deals with Bucky's
wavering faith. A grieving father asks
the expected questions of a God who
lets children die: "Why did he die?"
"Where is the sense in life?""Why does
tragedy always strike down those who
least deserve it?"— and Bucky, without
answers, feels betrayed by God.
Later, the narrator calls Bucky — a
literally broken man — a "maniac of
why,"seeking reason in a world in which
rationality and cause-and-effect are
seldom clear or even fully understand-
able to people.
And this, perhaps, is Roth's point.
At camp, Bucky takes off his glasses
so he may dive from a platform high
above the lake. He feels certain, from
this vantage, that all he sees is perfec-
tion despite his imperfect vision.
Newark and the polio epidemic are
impossibly far away.
Yet not being able to see something
does not mean that it is not there, and
the conclusion mocks Bucky's relieved
certainty in the face of human blind-
In Nemesis, Roth suggests that for the
greatest generation, the shock of that
realization could be debilitating. RT


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