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article imageOp-Ed: Writer tells of his own Neil Simon-like plays in his new book Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 26, 2014 in Entertainment
San Francisco - The life and work of a writer is often a mixture of fact and fiction. Yet for many writers some of the best stories they share come from real life, especially their own.
This can be said of San Francisco-based writer Joseph Sutton who this past spring published a semi-autobiographical work called, "The Life and Death of Abraham Massry and Other Stories." It can be found in ebook format on Kindle and Smashwords. It is among his very first e-books, published solely via digital format. While on assignment for The Westside Observer and The Sunset Beacon, this reporter had the chance to talk to Sutton more than once about this new book. Aside from the mention that publishing in electronic format was much more economical, Sutton shared something previously unknown in my interviews with him. I mostly know Sutton from his writings about being a writer through his "Morning Pages" and his well-received little book called, "The Year The Giants Won The Series."
His new book is a collection of 11 short stories is based on Sutton's Syrian Jewish background. The title story, "The Life and Death of Abraham Massry," is about a Jewish immigrant from Syria who wants his son Jake to follow the business and marriage path taken by him and his ancestors, except Jake shows the true calling of America by blazing his own trail. Sutton admits there is a lot of him in the character of Jake. "I often wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had stayed in Brooklyn? Everything I cherish as a writer is due largely in part to my growing up in Los Angeles."
There are stories about Jake growing up in the wide open spaces of Los Angeles as compared to Brooklyn where most of the Syrian Jews live and who still cling to the religious and cultural customs of the past. When Sutton would visit relatives within this very close-knit community in Brooklyn as a kid, the contrast was something that made an impression upon him.
According to The Brooklyn Historical Society and The Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative, there were two groups that came to the United States from Syria, Jews from Aleppo and Damascus. (Sutton’s parents were from Aleppo). The bulk of the migration took place around 1907 and at first, the two groups did not assimilate so harmoniously. The group from Damascus considered themselves more learned because Damascus was a center of learning since ancient times. And, with varying customs and approaches to traditions, the two groups had differing opinions.
Eventually, as time went on more was shared in common and the Syrian Jews became part of Brooklyn and the surrounding areas. Still, even as they branched out, their identity as a distinct group among a very large Jewish population was of utmost importance. This is something Sutton makes note of and is why he often ponders what his life would have been like if his parents had stayed in Brooklyn's close-knit community. "I am not that religious, and it seems to me that everything about where my parents were from revolved around the strict practice of religion and adherence to tradition," said Sutton.
This is an old family photo of the Suttons in Hollywood  1947.   In the photo are my mother and fath...
This is an old family photo of the Suttons in Hollywood, 1947. "In the photo are my mother and father, my brothers Dave on the left, Bob on the right, Maurice squatting and me, he said, (Joe or Jake as portrayed in his new book) in a cowboy getup." "Unfortunately,I have no photos of the relatives in Brooklyn," added Sutton.
courtesy of writer Joseph Sutton
"Perhaps, if my parents had not left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, I would have grown up to be a very religious, strongly traditional man. There is something to be said about the freedom and the diversity of cultures in California that is like few places in the world."
While the particular community Sutton spotlights is unique, it is part of a larger social fabric that shaped New York, the East Coast and eventually America in the 20th Century. When asked if he worked closely with or contacted the Brooklyn Historical Society, Sutton replied. "No, I didn't contact any historical group. I researched one book called 'Aromas of Aleppo' by Poopa Dweck, a cookbook that gave a very good history of the Syrian Jews in Syria and Brooklyn," he said. "I used the material in my Introduction. Otherwise, everything came from my experience."
Other stories in Sutton's collection include "At the Store," "Hebrew Lessons," "Bar Mitzvah Boy," "Syrian Jewish Football," "A Double-Edged Sword" and more. “All of these stories are based upon my relatives and family members," said Sutton.
Joseph Sutton's stories provide a rare glimpse into a unique group of people in the history of 20th Century America. Other authors have provided a unique view into the complexity of cultural and religious backgrounds in childhood. One that comes to my mind is Woody Allen's "Radio Days." Sutton's recent work also harkens to even more that many can easily recognize. Some of the stories read very much like a stage play or could easily be turned into a script for a movie.
With a mood and demeanor a bit like Sholem Aleichem's tales, upon which the Broadway musical "Fiddler on The Roof" is based, and with perhaps a touch of the human-struggle and humor of Neil Simon's plays mixed in, Sutton hopes people will enjoy Jake Massry's Syrian Jewish experiences from boyhood to manhood. Visit Joseph Sutton's web site to view his published works
To learn more and to purchase a book, visit the Smashwords web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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