September 2017

Looking back with wit and warmth

By Adam Gopnik
Review by

Adam Gopnik is a flâneur, a voyeur of streetscapes, crowds and singular personalities. Above all else, Gopnik is a writer.

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Adam Gopnik is a flâneur, a voyeur of streetscapes, crowds and singular personalities. He’s a romantic—his wife, Martha, to whom his memoir At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York is dedicated, is described with a disarming mixture of wryness and adoration—and he is frequently a cynic and a sentimentalist within the span of a few paragraphs. A sensualist, he often uses food as a metaphor as he reflects on both personal and cultural ambition. He infers, he observes—and then he composes. Because above all else, Gopnik is a writer.

At the Strangers’ Gate is part memoir, part meditation on his (and Martha’s) journey from Montreal to New York, and ultimately to The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer for some 30 years. They came to New York in the 1980s, a decade of upheaval and reinvention, and wondered at it, indulged in it and alternately looked up to and down at its creators. When they move from their tiny uptown basement apartment to another lucky strike, a loft in SoHo, he discovers a village of artists, writers, Bohemians, cobblestones—all of which seems of a piece to his expanding worldview.

Occasionally, Gopnik’s love for the epigram trips the reader up: “Art traps time, but food traps manners. The art lasts, the food rots.” This is his introduction into a recollection of not only his life in SoHo but also his fledgling professional art criticism and gradual breakthrough into the literary universe. At the Strangers’ Gate is a book studded with nuggets of fine prose, best tasted in smaller sections.


This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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