Vol. 111 (2021)

One Hundred Words from Author Jerome Charyn

about A Singular Beauty & More





Jerome Charyn's memoir of his mother, "Faigele," known as the queen of poker dealers in the West Bronx in the early 1940s, was first published in 1997, but went out of print several years later. Approximately twenty years thereafter, Stay Thirsty Publishing revived this gem that was a New York Times "Notable Book of 1997" and that bestselling author John Irving reviewed as capturing "an era to perfection." Newly released by Stay Thirsty Press under the title of A Singular BeautyCharyn magically transports the reader back to his childhood, when he was known as "Baby," and shines a light on the Jewish immigrant experience in New York City during the early days of World War II. In late 2020, A Singular Beauty became an Amazon #1 Hot New Release.


To learn more about this book directly from Jerome CharynStay Thirsty Magazine invited him to participate in our One Hundred Words project to respond to topics related to A Singular Beauty and to comment on other iconic figures he has written about in precisely one hundred words each.





JEROME CHARYN: There is no such thing as a memoir. Every memoir is an act of fiction. Still, I wrote a memoir about my childhood in the West Bronx, and our fall from grace, when we fled into the wasteland of the East Bronx. All these events did happen, but I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t lived one block south of the Grand Concourse during World War II. That was my little paradise. I loved standing on 161st Street, looking into the magical bowl of Yankee Stadium during night games, we could see the flare of every single cigarette.



JEROME CHARYN: She was an orphan who lost her mother at the age of two. Her mother owned a lot of land in Belarus, but the family lost every acre the day she died. Faigele grew up with an older brother, Mordechai, who looked after her. But he did not have enough money to join her in America, so Mordechai stayed behind. When I grew up, studying Russian at Columbia College, I promised my mother I would take her home. I corresponded with Mordechai in my own feeble Russian. But somehow, we never took that voyage, and she never saw him again.





JEROME CHARYN: I was Baby from the day I was born. My older brother had rickets and cried all the time. I never cried. I ate with a spoon and fork, while my mother fed my older brother. I couldn’t read of course, and I was jealous of the books my older brother hoarded. But when I began to read, I savored every word, the sound of them in my mind like a whimsical violin. Later, I was my mother’s accomplice at the poker table. Reading cards wasn’t that different from reading books. I was the master of every deck of cards.



STAY THIRSTY: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


JEROME CHARYN: FDR was the only god I ever had. I was born during his reign and I think I died when he did. He was our father, our uncle, our wily grocer – a politician who could juggle a thousand balls with one hand. A cripple who hid spindly legs from us. I listened to all of his Fireside chats, devoured every word. And later, as a young man, when I discovered his faults, I forgave him. He interned Japanese-Americans who committed no crimes and not a single act of sabotage, and he could have saved many more Jews than he did.

Jerome Charyn

STAY THIRSTY: Emily Dickinson.


JEROME CHARYN: Emily Dickinson has haunted my life — her poems, her persona, all the tales about her solitude.  Ever since I discovered her in the seventh grade, I've had a crush on that spinster in white, who had such a heroic and startling inner landscape of her own. "To shut one's eyes is Travel," she wrote, and I traveled with her, across volcanoes, mountain villages, treacherous streams, and unfamiliar archipelagos that were suddenly familiar when caught in the prism of her own merciless eye. She is a marvelous example of how one woman could push beyond the boundaries of her own time.



STAY THIRSTY: Abraham Lincoln.


JEROME CHARYN: I had lunch with critic Brenda Wineapple, who called Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln the two greatest 19th century poets. That startled me - and I began reading Lincoln. When I learned about his depression, I felt that I could enter his world. There’s so much written about him, but never in his voice. Only a crazy man would write in Lincoln's voice.  Because of Lincoln’s eternal sadness, he viewed the world in ways that most of us cannot; he was human in a way unlike most other people. . . We will not see the likes of Lincoln again.



STAY THIRSTY: Jerzy Kosinski.


JEROME CHARYN: I had been reprinting Kosinski's earlier novels (in French translation) for a small Swiss publisher, and as I reread the novels, they almost seemed like the work of a writer on his own secret maneuvers, masks within a mask.  And I wondered if I could uncover the man--or the boy--crouching behind the ultimate mask, if one could ever find it. As Kosinski says in the novel, "I lie even when I speak the truth." I had never written a book like this, almost like a matryoshka, a Russian doll-within-a-doll, until the novel itself becomes a doll without end.



STAY THIRSTY: Teddy Roosevelt.


JEROME CHARYN: I was first drawn to TR when I understood the relationship between him and his father. He’d be invisible today if not for the extraordinary pull of his father – as great a man as TR, even if he remains unknown. Born into wealth, TR’s father was interested in poverty. The key into understanding TR was his desire to never disappoint his father, to fight for equality and fairness, and to protect the unfortunate. He didn’t really take advantage of his own wealth. The sadness in TR’s voice comes from the fact that he mourned his father all his life.




JEROME CHARYN: DiMaggio was more than the blind apparatus of a machine that spat out heroes and ruined them in the process. His magic was born on a baseball field and abandoned him once he left it.  He really couldn't function away from baseball; that was his language; that was his beauty; that was his grace. And that's why he was so spectacular, because you suddenly see a very silent man begin to dance on the field.  DiMaggio rescued Marilyn Monroe’s career at a time when she was faltering. With Joe, she suddenly had a sparkling career just as his was ending.



STAY THIRSTY: Isaac Sidel.


JEROME CHARYN: Isaac Sidel is based on my brother, a fierce homicide detective in the NYPD. Isaac’s the great enigma of the NYPD. Known as Big Balls and Isaac the Brave, he mixes brains with brute force, with all the cunning of a Sherlock Holmes without the recreational violin.  His one weakness is his daughter, Marilyn the Wild, who’s in love with Isaac’s “angel,” Manfred Coen. Isaac’s willing to bend the law.  He rises in the NYPD with every bad guy he kills. No one can ever figure him out, but we’re convinced that he’ll walk out of any killing zone alive. 



Jerome Charyn



All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.