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The Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago
ISBN: 0-9758928-0-0
By: Caryn Lazar Amster
Review by: Melissa Flicek


The old writer’s adage states: “write what you know.” This is meant to be an inspiring mantra, but it can oftentimes be more challenging than rewarding. Writing what you know can be much harder than it seems. A text that emerges from life experience can oftentimes lack clarity, be too personal for an outside audience to understand, or quite frankly, be dull. This is not the case with the Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago by Caryn Lazar Amster. In her first book, Amster succeeds in telling the story of her family – from their immigration to America to living the American dream by owning a successful and influential toy store named “Wee Folks.” Amster narrates her story with a clear, factual, and captivating voice.

By relating her family’s tale, she delves into the ever-changing ethnic landscape of the South Side of Chicago where her family lived and worked as well as provides background on the discrimination against Jewish populations in Eastern Europe and America. In a powerful opening chapter, she relives the trauma of the tragic murder of her father. Throughout the next six chapters, Amster tells us how he lived by tracing her family’s roots from Europe to America. In the last chapter, she comes back to her father’s death and the trial for his murder. Amster’s narrative flows through these various milestones in her family history with emotional balance, factual accuracy, and a quick wit.

I applaud Caryn Lazar Amster’s for taking it upon herself to both write and self-publish this tribute to her family, the American dream and the immigrant experience. She seamlessly weaves the personal with the political by placing her family’s lives in relation to historic, world events through the telling of their stories. The Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago is a must read for Chicagoans and outsiders alike. It is a story that had to be told.

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