Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care About Jews, The South, and Civil Rights. By Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015. 267 pp.
"We Americans love our storytellers," writes journalist Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett in the opening pages of Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care About Jews, The South, and Civil Rights (4). And then she sets about telling the thoroughly engaging story of a Jewish immigrant boy named Chaim Goldhirsch, who grew up in New York City only to become one of the most provocative voices of the Jewish South. In these well-researched pages, Hartnett rescues Harry Golden from relative obscurity, bringing him to life as a flawed but loving family man, a hapless mis-manager of money, a gifted humorist, and a writer of significant influence during the nation's tumultuous struggle over civil rights.
Hartnett's narrative is vivid, quickly-paced, and richly contextualized. The book makes for effortless reading, in spite of some abrupt transitions between topics, no doubt a result of the author's effort to cover her subject's many intriguing life experiences. Hartnett adopts some of Golden's writerly flourishes; she writes with humor and soul, bringing her subject to life in animated depictions of an often troubled life journey. Beginning with the Goldhirsch family's humble settlement on the early twentieth-century Lower East Side, the book traces Harry's journey to shady dealings in the stock market-which landed him in jail in 1929-and eventually to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he discovered something resembling fame and fortune in the life of a popular writer and social commentator.
The book's title, Carolina Israelite, refers to the newspaper Golden launched in 1944 and edited for over two decades. The paper's banner declared its intent to "break down the walls of misunderstanding" and to fight Jewish stereotypes in the region while building interfaith understanding (62). Golden "found his life's work in being 'the other,'" writing prolifically on topics ranging from national politics and race relations to the particulars of Yiddishkeit and immigrant life in the North (256). All told, Golden published more than twenty books, among them five bestsellers, before he died in 1981.
Hartnett's is a moving portrayal of a flawed, deeply human individual whose writing style and socio-cultural insights made a unique contribution to the South's understanding of...