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The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklynby Robert Anasi
Synopses & Reviews
A firsthand account of the swift transformation of Williamsburg, from factory backwater to artists district to trendy hub and high-rise colony
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is now so synonymous with hipster culture and the very idea of urban revitalization—so well-known from Chicago to Cambodia as the playground for the game of ironized status-seeking and lifestyle one-upmanship—that its easy to forget how just a few years ago it was a very different neighborhood: a spread of factories, mean streets and ratty apartments that the rest of New York City feared and everyone but artists with nowhere else to go left alone.
Robert Anasi hasnt forgotten. He moved to a $300-a-month apartment in Williamsburg in 1994, and watched as the area went through a series of surreal transformations: the warehouses became lofts, secret cocaine bars became sylized absinthe parlors, barrooms became stage sets for inde-rock careers and rents rose and rose—until the local artists found that their ideal of personal creativity had served the aims of global commerce, and that their neighborhood now belonged to someone else.
Tight, passionate, and provocative, The Last Bohemia is at once a celebration of the fever dream of bohemia, a lament for what Williamsburg has become and a cautionary tale about the lurching transformations of city neighborhoods throughout the United States.
"The eternal clash between authenticity, art, and real estate development shapes this bittersweet memoir of New York's most tragically hip neighborhood. Anasi witnessed Williamsburg's progress in the 1990s and 2000s from crime-ridden working-class neighborhood overshadowed by crumbling factories — his explorations of the decrepit industrial waterfront are one of the books greatest pleasures — to edgy arts scene and hipster mecca to end-stage self-parody as an unaffordably upscale 'Bohemian theme park,' sprouting sterile luxury condos where picturesque ruins once stirred the soul. It's also the story of Anasi's own literary ambitions and tinged with nostalgia along with the usual antibourgeois posturing against gentrification. Fortunately, Anasi keeps the focus on an immersive account of the feel and look of the early neighborhood with sharply drawn, novelistic profiles of Williamsburg's original denizens and landscapes: pioneering artists, ghetto entrepreneurs, teen heroin addicts, grungy cocaine bars, and the complex ecosystem of the neighborhood cafe. There's color and romance in his portrait of the avant-garde, but he takes seriously the creative labor of artists, writers and — gulp — erotic circus performers as they hone their craft and their vision. His clear-eyed, heartfelt elegy shows why a Williamsburg — free, fecund, gloriously threadbare — is so vital to the culture." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Robert Anasi is the author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle (NPP, 2002), which George Plimpton called “[a book] as good as any Ive read about the sport.” He is a regular reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, and teaches at the University of California, Irvine.
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