Snow in August

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Set in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood in 1947, this poignant tale revolves around two of the most endearing characters in recent fiction: an eleven-year-old Irish Catholic boy named Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a refugee from Prague. From their initial chance encounter in a swirling blizzard one Saturday morning to the mute awe they share at first setting eyes on the hallowed grounds of Ebbets Field, Hamill brings to life the richness and complexity of this most remarkable friendship. For ...
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Set in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood in 1947, this poignant tale revolves around two of the most endearing characters in recent fiction: an eleven-year-old Irish Catholic boy named Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a refugee from Prague. From their initial chance encounter in a swirling blizzard one Saturday morning to the mute awe they share at first setting eyes on the hallowed grounds of Ebbets Field, Hamill brings to life the richness and complexity of this most remarkable friendship. For Michael, the rabbi's stories of ancient magic and wisdom captivate his imagination and transport him to times and places even his beloved comic book heroes have never visited. For the rabbi, Michael's patient instruction on the language of baseball and American culture opens up an equally strange and magical world.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's Christmas time, 1946. A blizzard has hit Brooklyn, but altar boy Michael Devlin, 12, is determined to be on time to serve the eight o'clock mass. On his way, he passes the local synagogue, where he sees old Rabbi Hirsch gesturing to him. It is the Jewish Sabbath, and the rabbi needs a non-Jew to switch on the light. Michael does, and is rewarded with a nickel. The boy lives with his Belfast-born mother in a tenement-his father was killed during WWI-and dreams winter dreams of Captain Marvel and of the new Dodgers rookie, Jackie Robinson. But soon neighborhood events will alter Michael's life. He witnesses Frankie McCarthy, a "nasty prick," beat the Jewish owner of the corner candy store into a coma. McCarthy warns Michael to keep quiet, and the frightened boy does. Michael becomes Rabbi Hirsch's Shabbos goy, the gentile who does the needed work on the Sabbath. Soon he is teaching the rabbi, a war refugee, English and baseball. In turn, the rabbi teaches Michael Yiddish and about the golem, a monstrous, animated artificial human being. The idyll is broken as McCarthy and his gang, the Falcons, continue their reign of terror. They paint swastikas on the synagogue. They beat up Michael and sexually harass his mother. Then they batter Rabbi Hirsch nearly to death. Vowing "never again," the boy, possessed of the absolute purity of belief, calls into the Talmudic past for help that will forever change his neighborhood. As in his memoir A Drinking Life, Hamill, in this beautifully woven tale, captures perfectly the daily working-class world of postwar Brooklyn. Sounding religious overtones that will thrill believers and make non-believers pause, he examines with a cool head and a big heart the vulnerabilities and inevitable oneness of humankind.
Library Journal
In Brooklyn in 1947, Michael Devlin, an 11-year-old Irish kid who spends his days reading Captain Marvel and anticipating the arrival of Jackie Robinson, makes the acquaintance of a recently emigrated Orthodox rabbi. In exchange for lessons in English and baseball, Rabbi Hirsch teaches him Yiddish and tells him of Jewish life in old Prague and of the mysteries of the Kabbalah. Anti-Semitism soon rears its head in the form of a gang of young Irish toughs out to rule the neighborhood. As the gang escalates its violence, it seems that only being as miraculously powerful as Captain Marvel-or a golem-could stop them. Strongly evoking time and place, Hamill (Piecework, LJ 12/95), editor of New York's Daily News, serves up a coming-of-age tale with a hearty dose of magical realism mixed in. Recommended for most public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
The eighth novel by New York journalist/now New York Post editor Hamill (Loving Women, 1989; the memoir A Drinking Life, 1994, etc.) finds him as readable as ever.

In postwar working-class Brooklyn, Irish Catholic Michael Devlin, 11, is obsessed with comics, worships Captain Marvel, and wonders why shouting SHAZAM! doesn't turn him into a superhero. His naiveté is crucial to the story, it turns out, since this slice-of-life tale metamorphoses at the finish completely and unexpectedly into fantasy. Michael and two friends are in Mr. Greenberg's candy store when psychopathic bully Frankie McCarthy, 17, comes in, beats up friendly "Mister G," and drops the cash register onto the owner's head, putting him into a coma. Although Michael is a witness, the code of the Irish goes against being a squealer. As his widowed mother Kathleen reminds him, Judas was the world's worst informer. Frankie is detained by the police and lets Michael know that he'll get his face carved up if he turns rat. For good measure, Michael is beaten up by Frankie's gang, the Falcons, who break his leg. After he's released from the hospital, he's attacked again, along with Kathleen. She still won't let Michael rat on Frankie, but she plans to move to Bay Ridge. Meantime, Michael has become the goy who works on the Jewish sabbath for a very poor rabbi. While the rabbi teaches him Yiddish in return for Michael's correcting his own English, the two become richly involved in the career of Jackie Robinson, the first black player to crack the majors. The rabbi also tells Michael about Rabbi Loew's golem, the Captain Marvel of the Jews. When Michael hears that Frankie McCarthy has got a pistol and intends to kill him, he decides to summon up a superhero of his own.

A slow-moving opening, with Hamill as earnestly humorless as ever, but the time-warp element and terrific descriptions will appeal to many.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446606257
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Snow in August

By Pete Hamill

Warner Books

Copyright © 1998 Pete Hamill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0446606251

Chapter One

Once upon a cold and luminous Saturday morning, in an urban hamlet of tenements, factories, and trolley cars on the western slopes of the borough of Brooklyn, a boy named Michael Devlin woke in the dark.

He was eleven years and three months old in this final week of the year 1946, and because he had slept in this room for as long as he could remember, the darkness provoked neither mystery nor fear. He did not have to see the red wooden chair that stood against the windowsill; he knew it was there. He knew his winter clothes were hanging on a hook on the door and that his three good shirts and his clean underclothes were neatly stacked in the two drawers of the low green bureau. The Captain Marvel comic book he'd been reading before falling asleep was certain to be on the floor beside the narrow bed. And he knew that when he turned on the light he would pick up the comic book and stack it with the other Captain Marvels on the top shelf of the metal cabinet beside the door. Then he would rise in a flash, holding his breath to keep from shivering in his underwear, grab for clothes, and head for the warmth of the kitchen. That was what he did on every dark winter morning of his life.

But this morning was different.

Because of the light.

His room, on the top floor of the tenement at 378 Ellison Avenue, was at once dark and bright, with tiny pearls of silver glistening in the blue shadows. From the bed, Michael could see a radiant paleness beyond the black window shade and gashes of hard white light along its sides. He lay there under the covers, his eyes filled with the bright darkness. A holy light, he thought. The light of Fatima. Or the Garden of Eden. Or the magic places in storybooks. Suddenly, he was sure it was like the light in the Cave of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man. That secret place in the comic book where the faceless man in the black suit first took Billy Batson to meet the ancient Egyptian wizard named Shazam. Yes: the newsboy must have seen a light like this. Down there, beyond the subway tunnel, in that long stone cave where the white-bearded wizard gave him the magic word that called down the lightning bolt. The lightning bolt that turned the boy into Captain Marvel, the world's mightiest man.

Michael knew that the magic word was the same as the name of the wizard: Shazam! And he had learned from the comic book that the letters of the name stood for Solomon, Hercules, and Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Ancient gods and heroes. Except for Solomon, who was a wise king from Bible days. Mighty symbols of strength, stamina, power, courage, and speed. They weren't just names in a comic book either; Michael had looked them up in the encyclopedia. And their powers were all combined in Captain Marvel. On that night in the mysterious cave, the wizard named Shazam told Billy Batson he had been chosen to fight the forces of evil because he was pure of heart. And no matter how sinister his enemies were, no matter how monstrous their weapons, all he needed to fight them was to shout the magic word. Shazam!

Alas, on the streets of the parish, the magic word did not work for Michael Devlin and his friends, and for at least three years they had debated the reasons. Maybe they needed to get the powers directly from the Egyptian wizard. Maybe the word didn't work because they weren't pure enough. Or because, as his friend Sonny Montemarano put it, Captain Marvel was just a story in a fucking comic book. Still, Michael insisted, it might be true. Who could ever know? Maybe all they had to do was believe hard enough for it to happen.

Michael was snapped back into the present by the sound of the wind. First a low moan. Then a high-pitched whine. A trombone choir, then a soprano saxophone. Tommy Dorsey's band, and then Sidney Bechet. The names and music he had learned from the radio. It sounded to Michael like the voice of the light. He sat up, his heart pounding, wondering what time it was, afraid that he had overslept, and swung his feet around to the floor. They landed on the Captain Marvel comic book.

I wish I didn't have to do this, he thought. Sometimes being an altar boy was a huge pain in the ass. I wish I could just lie in bed and listen to the wind. Instead of dragging myself all the way to Sacred Heart to mouth a lot of mumbo jumbo in a language nobody even speaks. I wish I could fall back into this warm bed, pull the covers around me, and sleep.

But he did not sink back into the warmth. In his mind, he saw his mother's disappointed face and Father Heaney's angry eyes. Worse: he felt suddenly alarmed, as if he had come close to the sin of sloth. Even Shazam warned against sloth, listing it among the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man, and Shazam wasn't even a Catholic. The word itself had a disgusting sound, and he remembered a picture of an animal called a sloth that he'd seen in a dictionary. Thick, furry, nasty. He imagined it growing to the size of King Kong, waddling wetly through the city, stinking of filth and laziness and animal shit. A dirty goddamned giant sloth, with P-38s firing machine guns at it, the bullets vanishing into the hairy mush of its formless body, its open mouth a pit of slobber. Jesus Christ.

So Michael did not even raise the black window shade. He grabbed his trousers, thinking: The antonym for sloth must be self-denial. Or movement. Or a word that said get off your ass, get up and go. When the priests, brothers, and nuns were not drilling them in synonyms or antonyms or the eleven times table, they were forever hammering away about self-denial. And so, buttoning his fly in the dark, he refused himself the pleasure of pulling the shade aside, or rolling it up, and thus revealing the source of the luminous light. He would wait. He would put off that vision. He would offer up his discomfort, as his teachers commanded him to do, for the suffering souls in Purgatory. Be good. Be pure. Accept some pain and thus redeem those who are burning for their sins. He could hear the chilly orders of his catechism teachers as clearly as he could hear Shazam.

Shirtless and shoeless, he hurried through the dark living room and past his mother's closed bedroom door to the kitchen, which faced the harbor of New York. The fire in the coal stove had guttered and died during the night, and the linoleum floors were frigid on his bare feet. He didn't care. Now he would deny himself no longer. He lifted the kitchen window shade, and his heart tripped.

There was the source of the light.


Still falling on the rooftops and backyards of Brooklyn.

Snow now so deep, so dense and packed, that the world glowed in its blinding whiteness.

The thrilling view pebbled his skin. It had been snowing for two days and nights, great white flakes on the first day and then harder, finer snow driven by the wind off the harbor. The boy had seen nothing like it. Ever. He could remember six of his eleven winters on the earth, and there had never been snow like this. This was snow out of movies about the Yukon that he watched in the Venus. This was like the great Arctic blizzards in the stories of Jack London that he read in the library on Garibaldi Street. Snow that hid wolves and covered automobiles and crushed cabins and halted trolley cars. Snow that caused avalanches to cover the entrances of gold mines and snow that cracked limbs off trees in Prospect Park. Snow from a mighty storm. The night before, someone on the radio said that the blizzard had paralyzed the city. Here it was, the next morning, and the snow was still coming down, erasing the world.

He stepped into the narrow bathroom off the kitchen, closing the door behind him. The tiles were colder than the linoleum. His teeth chattered. He urinated, pulled the chain to flush, and then washed his face quickly in the cold water of the sink, thinking: I will go into it; I will face the storm, climb the hard hills, push into the wind of the blizzard to the church on the hill. Father Heaney, a veteran of the war, will celebrate the eight o'clock mass, and I will be there at his side. The only human being to make it through the blizzard. Even the old ladies in black, those strange old biddies who make it to church through rainstorms and heat waves, even they will fail to make it through the storm. The pews will be empty. The candles will flicker in the cold. But I will be there.

His heart raced at the prospect of the great test. He didn't care now about the souls in Purgatory. He wanted the adventure. He wished he had a dogsled waiting downstairs. He wished he could bundle himself in furs and lift a leather whip and urge the huskies forward, shouting, Mush, boys, mush! He had the serum in a pouch and by God, he would get it to Nome.

He combed his hair, and when he stepped out of the bathroom, his mother, Kate, was raking the ashes in the coal stove, her flannel robe pulled tightly around her, worn brown slippers on her feet. Steam leaked from her mouth into the frigid air. A teapot rested on the black cast-iron top of the stove, waiting for heat.

"Let me do that, Mom," the boy said. "That's my job."

"No, no, you're already washed," she said, in her soft Irish accent, a hair of irritation in her voice. Raking the dead ashes was one of Michael's chores, but in his excitement over the blizzard, he'd forgotten. "Just go and get dressed."

"I'll do it," he said, taking the flat shovel from her and digging the ashes out of the bottom tray. He poured them into a paper bag, a gray powder rising in the air to mix with the steam from his breath, then shoveled fresh coal from the bucket onto the grate. The fine ash made him sneeze.

"For the love of God, Michael, get dressed," she said now, pushing him aside. "You'll catch your death of cold."

Back in his room, at the far end of the railroad flat, he pulled an undershirt over his head and a dark green shirt on top of it, shoving the tails into his trousers. After tugging galoshes over his shoes, he finally raised the blackout shade. The snow was piled against the windowpane at least two feet above the steel slats of the fire escape. Beyond the steep drift, snow swirled like a fog so dense he could not see across Ellison Avenue. He hurried back into the kitchen. A fire was burning now in the coal stove, its odor staining the air like rotten eggs. He wished his mother would buy the Blue Coal advertised on The Shadow; it was harder-anthracite, they said in school-with almost no smell. But she told him once that they couldn't afford it and he never asked again.

"I'm sure you could stay home if you like, Michael," she said, the irritation out of her voice now. "They know how far you have to come."

"I can do it," he said, combing his hair, choosing not to remind her that the church was eight blocks from 378 Ellison Avenue. From the backyards he heard a sound that he was sure was the howling of a thousand wolves.

"Still," she said, pouring water for tea, "it's a terrible long way in this storm."

He followed her glance to the wall clock: seven twenty-five. He had time. He was certain that she also looked at the framed photograph of his father. Thomas Devlin. Michael was named for his mother's father, who had died in Ireland long ago. The photograph of his own father was hanging beside the picture of President Roosevelt that she'd cut out of the Daily News magazine when he died. For a moment, Michael wondered what she thought about when she looked at the picture of his father. The boy didn't remember many details about the man she called Tommy. He was a large man with dark hair and a rough, stubbled beard who had gone off to the army when Michael was six. And had never come back. In the framed formal photograph, he was wearing his army uniform. The skin on his smiling face looked smooth. Much smoother than it actually felt. His hair was covered by the army cap, but at the sides it was lighter than the boy remembered. That brown hair. And a deep voice with an Irish brogue. And a blue Sunday suit and polished black shoes. And a song about the green glens of Antrim. And stories about a dog he had as a boy in Ireland, a dog named Sticky, who could power a boat with his tail and fly over mountains. His mother surely remembered much more about him. The boy knew his father had been killed in Belgium in the last winter of the war, and thought: Maybe the blizzard reminds her of Tommy Devlin dead in the snow, a long way from Brooklyn. Maybe that's why she's irritated. It's not my lollygagging. It's the snow.

"I wish you could eat something," she said, sipping her tea, but not pouring a cup for Michael because she knew he could neither eat nor drink before serving mass.

"I've got to receive Communion, Mom."

"Well, hurry home. There'll be bacon and eggs."

Usually he was famished and thirsty on mornings before mass, but the excitement of the storm was driving him now. He took his mackinaw from the closet beside the front door.

"Wear a hat, lad," she said.

"This has a hood, Mom," he said, "and it's real warm. Don't worry."

She took the starched surplice from the clothesline and covered it with butcher paper, closing the wrapping with Scotch tape. Then she kissed him on the cheek as he opened the door to the hall. Halfway down the first flight of stairs, he glanced back, and she was watching him go, her arms folded, her husband smiling from the wall behind her, right next to the dead president of the United States.

I wish she wasn't so sad, he thought.

And then, leaping down the three flights of stairs to the street, he braced himself for the storm.


Excerpted from Snow in August by Pete Hamill Copyright © 1998 by Pete Hamill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, June 26th, welcomed Pete Hamill to discuss SNOW IN AUGUST.

Moderator: Welcome, Mr. Hamill. Thanks for joining us this evening!

Pete Hamill: Thank you, and hello everybody!

Max from Medford, MA: I'm looking forward to reading SNOW IN AUGUST. Can you explain the significance of the title. Thanks!

Pete Hamill: The turning point of the book, without giving away the ending, is a kind of miracle, a form of magic, and whenever it can SNOW IN AUGUST in the city of New York, that's a miracle.

Marco from Kansas City: You know, everyone's talking about what it would be like if the Brooklyn Dodgers came back, but personally, that's just too many teams in one city, if you ask me. Don't you think such a thing would create a war in New York?

Pete Hamill: There's never too many teams if there is enough people. The state of California now has five teams, probably one more than they need in the Bay Area. But I don't think the Brooklyn Dodgers can ever come back to Brooklyn, because they are not the same people. The franchise can come back, if Steinbrenner and the guys that run the Mets would let them, which I doubt, but the thing about the Dodgers was that the players aren't the ones who can't come back, its the fans! Guys who were twenty when they left are now sixty! Guys who were forty are now eighty! So the team could come back for purposes of nostalgia, but it would never be the same.

Jack from Palo Alto: I read A DRINKING LIFE and loved it. Do you think one of the drawbacks of writing a memoir is that people feel as if they know you after reading such intimate details about your life? Did you find yourself becoming more guarded or frustrated with people's various assumptions?

Pete Hamill: I think when you write a memoir, you are offering some insight into your life to others, and if the book is going to be honest, that's one of the risks you then face, that you are somewhat naked in the world. But what I found with that book was that what people responded to was the honesty, which allowed them, in return, in thousands of letters I received, to be honest about their own lives. If that was the result, then the effort was worth it. As far as understanding or misunderstanding -- every writer knows that he or she can be subject to misunderstanding. What you hope for is a response, and if that response is different from what you intended, that's OK. It's the response that matters. One of the things books do is allow people sitting alone at a computer to send a message to others who are alone. It's a dialogue between two alone persons, and its the magic of reading -- its what makes reading itself a creative act. from cyber cyandbox: Hey Pete! What borough of Brooklyn does SNOW IN AUGUST take place in? I read the whole thing and couldn't figure it out! I even called the Brooklyn borough President's office and gave them the street names in your book, but they couldn't figure it out! Help! And tell me why that place is significant -- where in Brooklyn did you grow up?

Pete Hamill: It is where I grew up, yes. I changed all the street names, and the reason was that everybody in the US seems to have a lawyer. If you put down a name that you thought you invented, and a person who may have lived for a week and a half on that street, you may get a letter from a lawyer. I also changed some of the geography. There's a pool room, and I moved it across the street, and so far only one guy has written me a letter complaining about the move. The neighborhood had no name at the time, it was to us just, THE NEIGHBORHOOD. These days, the real estate agents have named it, rather grandly, the South Slope, in order to cash in on the fashionability of Park Slope, which is the next neighborhood over from ours. In my head, it is still just a neighborhood.

Elizabeth I. from Washington, D.C.: Mr. Hamill, I loved your descriptions of the snowstorm in SNOW. I used to live in New York, but left because it was too crazy for me. But I do remember when it snowed, how the city was effectively closed down and quiet for once, and that is the feeling I got from SNOW IN AUGUST, what with trolley cars, lights still blinking, frozen in the streets. You really hit that description on the head, and I wanted to commend you for it. By the way, were you there for the Blizzard of 1996?

Pete Hamill: I certainly was, and I was for the blizzard of 1947. And I think snow in NY is just about the single most magical thing that can happen, it truly transforms the city, and as you say, silence is one of the most extraordinary effects. The worst thing about snow, is that three days later, there are these black scabby ice mountains around, or if it gets warm, the vilest slush known to mankind.

Blueman from Harrison, NJ: Hi there! How do you do it? I listen to you on Imus (he's responsible for me reading you) and no matter what the subject is, you always have something interesting to say. Whether it's sports, the arts, religion, politics, etc. How do you find the energy to keep yourself so informed? What magazines and papers do you read regularly (aside from the Daily News)?

Pete Hamill: Well I read everyday the Times, The Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times. Magazines, I could start with A for America's, which is a terrific Latin America magazine, to Comics magazine, to a wonderful one called the Journal of the Latin American Historical Society, and Vuelta, edited by Octavio Paz, and Proceso, which is the best magazine in Mexico for politics and social issues. I also read ArtNews, New Republic, The Nation -- across the board, really. It has to be a pretty terrible magazine for me not to read it. I love to scan -- Archeology magazine, for example. I read it for things I'm interested in, archeology in Ireland but not in Turkey, for example. Because I've been a newspaperman for 38 years, and a newspaperman that was always a generalist, my reading has been very eclectic. The Internet makes a lot of that easier, by the way. I can click on and get the Irish Times, or newspapers in Mexico, for example, in addition to the American papers. It's so much easier now.

Rory from Florida: Hey Pete, I went to Walden Books to check your book SNOW IN AUGUST out. It sounds pretty good and I will check it out in the library. Anyway, there are three questions I have:
1) Are you related in any way to Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, Star Wars)?
2) I am trying to write a book full of commentaries but I thought to myself that I was not cut out for that work yet. So I am doing a web page where I put in a commentary every Sunday (The day 60 minutes is on with Andy Rooney. He is one of my favorite commentators). When I start out to write this book, where do I begin? I am not so sure if I can make a commitment to writing this book yet?
3) How does it feel to see a book of yours on the shelf?

Pete Hamill: I am not related to Mark Hamill, although my father claimed him, as he also claimed Dorothy Hamill, the figure skater. To start a book of commentary, I think you have to start thinking Commentary about what? Maybe you should give yourself a focus -- Start with A and write about Art, and go to Z and write about zoology. And then you have to think about who you are writing it for. If you are writing it for yourself, then it is your own, a kind of therapy. If you are writing it for others, then you should have some kind of idea as to who those others are. As far as the book on the shelf, when I was young and my first books came out it was a thrill, and it still is, when I walk into Barnes And Noble and see a table of my books. But what is even more thrilling is to walk in and discover there are only two copies left, because all the others sold out.

stu from miami: How different is the pressure of putting out a daily paper from the pressures of writing a novel?

Pete Hamill: It's two entirely different kinds of pressure. The Daily News, particularly as editor in chief, is like running an orchestra. You are constantly moving from one section to another, one editor, writer to another, to make sure that everybody is playing in tune. There are judgments made virtually every minute of the day. Writing a novel has an entirely different rhythm. You need to find a certain amount of solitude in order to put yourself in the trance that the form requires. You're almost physically detaching yourself from the dailyness of what you are doing. The newspaper is nothing but 'dailyness'.

Carlton from echo: I really got a lot out of reading A DRINKING LIFE! Really, what impresses me the most is your decision to stop drinking and not whining about it. How were you able to just go cold turkey like that, without a support groups or 12 steps?

Pete Hamill: I was one of those rare people who was able to do that, but I don't recommend it for everybody. I have taken people, friends, members of my family to AA -- they do marvelous work. But they are not for everybody. Some people are too shy, or resist the spiritual side of the process. So I think there are different ways to get to the same goal. There were people in the history of the world who stopped drinking long before there ever was an AA or a twelve-step program. The best program is the one that works.

Pete M. from long beach new york: A long time ago you wrote holiday stories for the Sunday Daily News magazine, do you plan to do that in the not too distant future?

Pete Hamill: I wish I had the time. I would love to do particularly short fiction again, which I did for the News. But, at the moment, the re-shaping of the paper is taking me 12 hours a day, six days a week. On the 7th day, I collapse, so I don't think I'll be writing those types of stories for a while.

Tom C. from New Rochelle: Pete, you deal with issues of bias and prejudice in your new book. It takes place in 1947 -- do you feel that racial and religious tolerance has improved at all since then in NYC? Or do old habits die hard? Thanks, man -- you write like a champ. -- Tom

Pete Hamill: I think the surface has changed. 1947 and 1997 are obviously different in many ways. That year Jackie Robinson became the black first player in MLB. Sports are integrated, Universities are integrated, some parts of society are integrated. But the underlying thing- the fear of strangers, the fear of the 'other' remail the same. SO I think deep inside human beings there is some almost primitive need for the kind of separation that creates bigotry. But anybody who thinks it is worse now than it was in 1947, was simply not alive in 1947.

Marc from Coney Island: Do you think you'll ever follow your dream to become a comic book artist? Do you still read comics? If so, which ones?

Pete Hamill: It is now, alas, too late to be a comic book artist, although I hope I end my days painting watercolors in some lovely Mexican town. I do read some comics, but most of them are reprints of the ones I read when I was young. I can't identify with the world of super heroes but I do think that some artist such as Will Eisner, Hugo Pratt, and some of the Europeans, are doing amazing work, and moving the comics form beyond the ghetto of adolescent pulp. I think great stuff is coming.

Judy from East Hampton: Mr. Hamill: Your Yiddish in SNOW IN AUGUST is pretty good! Did you pick it up while growing up in Brooklyn? I'm halfway through SNOW IN AUGUST and loving it! Thanks.

Pete Hamill: I cannot tell a lie -- I picked up some Yiddish as a boy in Brooklyn, but when I started to write the book, I turned to some friends who are fluent and asked for some help. The looked at my barbaric Yiddish, laughed, and set me straight. So the Yiddish in the book is the product of far greater linguists than myself.

Mark from NYC: Mr. Hamill, what do you think about the online interview format so far?

Pete Hamill: I think it's the next form of the interview, because it forces you to talk slowly, and ponder your words, so if my replies sound ponderous, forgive me -- it's the format.

Lilo from Doylestown, PA: Dear Mr. Hamill, Will you be writing a sequel to A DRINKING LIFE anytime in the near future? Thanks!

Pete Hamill: Only if enough people die.

Theodore from Crown Heights: Mr. Hamill, I was very pleased to learn of the friendship between a Jewish Rabbi and a young Catholic boy that you came up with for SNOW IN AUGUST. Tell me, please, what you think about the tense neighbor relations here, in Crown Heights? I mean, is your story a feasible one? The prejudice certainly exists. Thank you.

Pete Hamill: I think friendships are always possible when people see each other as individuals rather than members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups. In our newspapers yesterday, we had a wonderful column by Michael Daly about the friendship between Betty Shabazz and an Hasidic Rabbi from Brooklyn, and I am certain that they taught each other much about human beings. The great history of NYC, is about wave after wave of people who once were antagonists and ended up friends, lovers, husbands, wives, and I suspect that process will keep going. About the relations between Jews and African-American's right now, I am optimistic because I think the common problems will force them to deal with each other.

Yuri from Staten Island: Immigration seems to be a big theme in your life -- as the son of immigrants, Rabbi Hirsch from SNOW IN AUGUST is an immigrant from Prague, and the Daily News has a focus on immigrants. What's your take on the recent movements in the government to restrict immigration and the access immigrants have to certain rights of citizens? Thanks so much for answering my question!

Pete Hamill: I think it is an outrage, I think it is un-American, I think it is doomed to failure. The great cliche is that we are a country of immigrants, but cliches become cliches because they contain some essential truths. We cannot say "We're here and nobody else is allowed," or we turn ourselves against one of our essential myths.

Louise from Breezy Point: Are there any more movies in your future? I saw you in ONE FINE DAY and that movie with Glenn Close and Michael Keaton (I forgot the name:) ) I'd bet you feel typecast as a news man right about now in your career!

Pete Hamill: Well, I wish they would cast me once in a while as a novelist! But my amazing screen career shows the depths to which you can descend in order to get the screen actor's guild dental plan! To answer the question though, I don't have time to do any of that anymore, at least for the next year or two.

sorcha from venice, ca: I absolutely loved SNOW IN AUGUST, particularly how you wove together disparate mythologies -- Irish, Jewish, baseball, Marvel comics, etc. -- to create this magical whole. Beautiful. A DRINKING LIFE I read cover to cover in one night. As a New Yorker exiled in La La Land, I was particularly interested in your thoughts on hunting for the next Great Good Place . . . Do you think that that restlessness is an American trait, a NY trait, and do you think you'd ever leave NY again?

Pete Hamill: Restlessness is a very American trait. We're children of immigrants, to go back to my earlier answer, of some of the bravest people in the world! They pulled up stakes, packed up their few belongings into cardboard suitcases, sailed across oceans, they came to a place where they did not know the language, many of them, and they built the country we live in. So somewhere, in a lot of us, there is still that need for adventure, for change, for movement. William Bonny grew up on the West Side, moved to New Mexico, and became Billy the Kid. There is something very American about that. My own great good place remains New York, it is my country, my home -- but I've tried in my life to see as much of the world as possible. And know that the Great Good Place is wherever you have your book, and your music. I once asked Richard Reeves, the columnist, who had lived in New York, Paris, and California, where he would like to live most in the world, and he answered, 'Somewhere Else.' I know what he meant.

David from Innsbruck: Pete, hello. Have you read Frank McCourt?

Pete Hamill: Yes. I've known him for 25 years at least, and never suspected that he was a writer, he was too busy making us laugh. When his book came out, I wrote a long review of it for Irish America Magazine, and said basically, that it was a triumph, not a literary triumph, to use a cliche, but a triumph over the meanest forms of life. I wish every poor kid in every American ghetto could read Frank's book, and in the reading, understand his or her own life. I think the reason for it's great success is that by being very specific, he became universal.

Colleen from NYC: Mr. Hamill -- I think you are wonderful! Have you ever thought about getting into politics? New York City could use a man like you!

Pete Hamill: I am flattered that you think so, but I think politics would drive me crazy, particularly politics as it's now practiced. 30 years ago, covering politics as a reporter was great fun - you could sit around late at night with the politicians and listen to their jokes and their lies and even their ideas. Today, politics is so dominated by the image mongers, by the ten-second byte, by the creation of the fraudulent public persona, that it simply is not fun. Writers work better alone, and most politicians can't ever be alone.

Chip from Manhattan: From reading SNOW IN AUGUST, I got a great sense of Brooklyn. What other 'New York' writers do you like to read?

Pete Hamill: I like very much a young Dominican writer Junot Diaz, who has a new book out called DROWN. Of older writers I've liked the NY short stories of Irwin Shaw, and John O'Hara, and of course THE GREAT GATSBY is basically a great NY novel. In some ways poets write beautifully about New York, particularly Frank O'Hara, MaryAnn Moore, a forgotten poet named Weldon Kees. If I had to sit down and make a list, all of those writers would be on it, but I know even answering this, I am leaving out some of the better ones. Walt Whitman is a good example. I think lends itself more to journalism, and history than to fiction, although I liked Tom Wolfe's BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES; I think columnists like Jimmy Breslin and Murray Kempton have added more to our sense of the city, and its complexity, than most novelists have.

John from East Village: How do you find the time to write with all your responsibilities at the Daily News?

Pete Hamill: Well as I said earlier, I haven't done much writing since I started at the Daily News, but things are calming down a bit at the newspaper, so I'll be writing more fairly soon. The way to do it is to get up early before the telephone starts to ring, and don't read the newspaper until after you've done some writing. I'll find out soon whether that fine intention is possible. Next work? I'm working on a short biography of the painter Diego Rivera, for an art book that will be published a year from now by Harry Abrahms, the art book publishers, and I've got another novel swarming around in my head.

Moderator: Pete Hamill, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us tonight. We enjoyed having you -- and thanks to all who tuned in and asked questions. Mr. Hamill, any final thoughts before we go?

Pete Hamill: Thanks for having me. Read books.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Snow in August starts like a modern-day fairy tale, with the phrase "Once upon a cold and luminous morning, in an urban hamlet of tenements, factories, and trolley cars on the western slopes of the borough of Brooklyn, a boy named Michael Devlin woke in the dark" In what other ways does the author use fairy tale elements, and why do you think he does so?

2. Heroes and villains, both real and imaginary, are a significant part of Michael's life. What does he learn about heroism in the course of the book? Does his hero worship help or hinder him? Do you think that heroes are necessary in our lives? Do you think children today have fewer heroes available to them than Michael does in 1946?

3. One of Michael's greatest worries in Snow in August is whether or not to tell the police about Frankie McCarthy beating up Mister G. Michael's mother says that informers are the "scum of God's sweet earth," but Rabbi Hirsch tells him, "You keep quiet about some crime, it's just as bad as the crime." Do you agree with Kate Devlin or Rabbi Hirsch? Whom do you think the author agrees with?

4. Over the course of Snow in August, Michael learns Yiddish and Rabbi Hirsch learns English. Both of them are fascinated by the power of words, and ultimately Michael draws on their power to create the Golem. What does this suggest about the power of language? Do words still have power today?

5. The shadow of World War II and the Holocaust looms over Snow in August. Both Kate Devlin and Rabbi Hirsch have lost a spouse to the war. Are there ways in which Kate and Leah Yaretzky are similar? What about the Rabbi and Tommy Devlin?

6. The progress of Jackie Robinson's first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers is a recurring motif in the novel. Why do Michael and the Rabbi follow his story so fervently? What do they learn from it?

7. Michael is often moved or inspired by the music of his time, from popular music to Dvorak. How do the titles of these pieces reflect the themes in Snow in August? Is the radio just a conduit for the music, or do you think it has a wider significance?

8. Snow in August is a novel full of miraculous happenings. Were you surprised that Michael was able to recreate the Golem? Why do you think the author used miracles instead of more realistic events?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 56 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 3, 2010

    A testimony to the strength of friendship

    Snow in August is about 11-year-old Michael Devlin, an Irish Catholic who becomes friends with an Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Hirsch, a recent immigrant to America. Set in a borough of Brooklyn in 1947, following WWII in which Michael's father gave his life at the Battle of the Bulge and Rabbi Hirsch's beloved wife lost hers in her fight against the fanatical Hitler by trying to organize the Jews to leave for Palestine. Michael teaches Rabbi Hirsch English and American ways and the rabbi teaches the boy Yiddish and tells him stories of Jewish life back in Prague, as well as the mysteries of the Kabbalah. 1947 is the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, anti-Semitism and the distrust of others not of one's culture or nationality was alive and well in America. A gang of young Irish teens set out to rule the neighborhood by intimidation, feeding on violence and hatred until, through Michael, a powerful force is brought to bear against them. The story of the friendship between the boy and the rabbi is a touching one and I especially enjoyed the interaction between the two. The ending was not as I had imagined and didn't give me the satisfaction the ending I envisioned would have, but, of course, it wasn't my story. Eunice Boeve, author of Ride a Shadowed Trail

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2006

    Not as good as 'Forever' but still great

    This is an amazing book. Pete Hamill has just the magic touch to bring words to life. This isn't as good as his book 'Forever' but it's still an amazing book. It really takes you to back to the 1940s in NYC.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2004

    Great, revealing, fictional book packed with excitement, drama, sadness and history....a real good read

    Sad, happy, historical, cynical, religious, ethnic,fast paced....all packed into this one book....loved it.....could not put it down....

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2003

    Incredibly Marvelous!

    Though it had been lying on my desk for nearly two years when I finally decided to read it; it was a great novel and Pete Hamill is a brilliant author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    They don't get any better than this!

    When i finishef this remarkable novel I sat spellbound for many many minutes. You just don't want to let go or fade from memory. As an older adult and grandfather i look back on my youth and my confusions and realize that Hamill got it so so right. Beautiful. I have never written to an author but Snow in August makes me wsnt to reach out to the author and simply say Yes...oh yes!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Highly Recommend!

    A great story of of a young boy and the streets of New York in the early 40's. Gangs, Dodger's baseball and a struggling widowed mom during World War Two. The boy finds a friend and life lessons on his way to church in a snowstorm. I couldn't put it down and have recommended it to all of my friends. Luckygram

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2012

    Loved this book, love this author, they have a heartbeat. Loyalt

    Loved this book, love this author, they have a heartbeat. Loyalty, and betrayal, by people we love -and used to love, captured in story with a graininess and humanity reminiscent of , "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Hamill writes "literature." This baby is happy to have read two Hamill novels (and soon to devour two more).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2012

    One of the best ever

    This is simply ome of the finest novels I've ever read. Highly recommended!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 11, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Beautifully written, takes you to the NY of the 40's, Brooklyn Dodgers, immigrant experiences lovingly described, yet realistic. A good bit of Jewish folklore, linked to Irish folklore. Couldn't put it down (or, couldn't shut off my NOOK!)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Simply Nice

    Simply put, I liked this story--told from an innocent young boy's point of view but with an injection of the sometimes harsh realities that too many children have to face in this world. I was surprised by another reviewer's comment that Catholics were shown in a predominantly negative light, because--as a Catholic--I was pleasantly surprised that most were shown positively. I kept waiting for the pedophile priest or the "jew-hating" rhetoric, but, while there was no attempt to deny that such behaviors exist, most people in general in the story were shown to be tolerant and decent to one another. Sure, fear of retribution from bullies and gangs kept people quiet, but that is something most every person can identify with. I picked this book up at the library when I took out another Pete Hamill book--Forever--and in both cases, enjoyed the element of faith/hope/magic/sense of wonder that played a major role. Yeah, he spent a lot of time on baseball, which didn't interest me, but not so much that I lost interest in the bigger story. I'll look for more from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2010

    Simply amazing

    I read this book about a year ago, and looking back on it now I can still remember every detail. It was amazing, worth every penny. If you enjoyed this book, I highly recommend Pete Hamill's Forever.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Story ~ Great Characters ~ Highly Recommend

    This is the first Pete Hamill book I have read and I will be reading more of his collection. Great story with excellent character development that keeps your interest to the very last page. The descriptions of New York during the depression are intriguing for this baby boomer. This would be a great choice for a book club ~ highly recommend this book and it would make a nice gift/stocking stuffer for anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    Great Read

    Courage, determination, understanding, tolerance and inttolerance.
    what a better world we would have without bullies, who truly are lonely, and lost and have only their cruelty to others, to give them power and a place in society.

    A simple act of kindness brings a lifetime of learning and friendship.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved it!

    Any book by Pete Hamill is worth reading, but this one was especially humanistic. Pete Hamill has such an elegant writing style that I was immediately hooked. The characters are as real as the city itself and the plot was unique with a lemon twist. Read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A great New York story

    This book transported me into the magical world of New York neighborhoods with all of the charm and stumbling blocks thrown in with a mixture of childhood and fear.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2003

    Excellent and powerful read

    This book was wonderful, powerful, moving and illustrates how people of different religious backrounds can build warm and loving relationships, find common ground to build on and in spite of different traditions are really more alike than different. I must strongly disagree with the writer who urges how unbelievable the friendship here was. I was raised Catholic but of late I have been attending services at a Jewish synagogue. I must say four rabbis and many Jewish members there have embraced me & my family and welcomed us so warmly to services, events, & classes. They do in fact teach me Hebrew and welcomed my daughter into Hebrew classes. This book really hit home for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2003

    Too Good of a book!!!

    Snow in August was an awesome book!! I definitely enjoyed this one! (I finished it in a day)This was excellent! I wish more books were like this one! Schools usually pick bad summer reading books, but this one was brilliant! There is no bad part of this book! Rock on Pete Hamill!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2003


    I fell in love with Pete Hamill when I read his book 'Forever'....which was also a fantastic book! I think I'd have to say that Snow in August was the best book I've read in a long time! I felt like I was made me laugh and cry...I'd love to see a movie made out of this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2003


    What a great story! I was entertained, I learned something and would recommend this book to my 11 year old grandson. Although, many subjects were covered, they were woven together in such a way that they were easy to follow.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Excellent Story

    This is a very good book to read. When i first opened it i looked at the great reviews;and was skeptical to whether they were as good as they said. After finishing the book in a week i was very pleased. I recommend this book to teen readers as well as adults. It's combines faith, hope, despair and change in less than a year in the eyes of a child.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews

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