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I just finished reading a fascinating book.  It was about war, about boxing and love and hate and, most especially for me, about the South Bronx.  Mott Haven and Melrose prior to and during World War I come to life in this excit-ing 395-page tome by James Ryan.  It’s called “Natural Affinities” but the title means little: the content is everything.  It’s insightful and meaningful and delves deeply into human nature, the good and the bad of it.  While at it, it takes you for a horse and wagon ride through the cobblestoned streets of the South Bronx with asides to St. Mary’s Park and other sites familiar to those of us who walked that way. 

There was a time when German was widely spoken in the Bronx.  It was at the height of the piano manufacturing business and the Bronx breweries that created such quaffs as Eblings, Eichlers and Hafens lager.  Indeed, beer halls and beer gardens abounded in our fair borough and “Dutch Broad-way” was another name for Courtlandt Avenue.  The two industries assured work for many and helped make the Bronx a great place to live and work. 

The Irish, too, flocked to the Bronx where work on the railroads and sub-ways provided gainful employment.  The sons of Erin were also adept at horsemanship during these days when the horse provided the main means of transporta­tion.  Some Irish also suc-ceeded in politics and Alexander Ave-nue became known as Irish Fifth Ave-nue for the fine homes of some of our borough’s political leaders, lawyers, judges and doctors.  The two groups intermingled well and often intermar-ried strengthening the bonds between them but friction did occasionally arise and this book highlights the tensions between them arising from some anti-German sentiment during the war.  Relations between the two communi-ties began to erode when the Lusitania carrying many American passengers was sunk in 1915 and later again when America formally declared war on Germany. 

The author also weaves marvelous tales of intrigue and treachery in Van Cortlandt Park and a story of budding love further south in our borough.  Most importantly, it is a story about the Bronx, good times and bad.  It’s also a story of hope and survival.  Tommy Muldoon, the endearing protagonist, plies the streets with his junk wagon by day and spends his evenings im-proving his boxing skills.  He’s pursu-ing the American dream the only way he knows how, in the ring. 

The author comes from the streets of the Bronx and that’s important.  He knows his subject well and presents a marvelous array of interwoven stories that mesh well and will keep you turn-ing pages and ruing the time when there are no more to turn. Natural Af-finities by James Ryan is a little pricey at $35.50 so you may want to shop around for the best price.  Also be aware that at least one other book car-ries the same title so be careful to check both the title and the author be-fore buying it.  Enjoy.

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