Originating with an article the author wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 1994, this memoir reveals the unique duality of Southern Jews and is a serious examination of the tension between two cultures. Although there have been other fine books about the Southern Jewish experience (Stella Suberman's The Jew Store, Eli Evans's The Provincials and The Lonely Days Were Sundays: Reflections of A Jewish Southerner, and Marcus Rosenbaum's Heart of a Wife), The Peddler's Grandson captures the love and conflict as no other has done. Since the diaspora of Southern Jews is vast, this book will find a welcome everywhere. In it many Jewish readers will re-experience their own joy and grief. The author's prose is refined, elegant, and polished, and his heartache is tinged with nostalgia and humor.
In The Peddler's Grandson Cohen writes with a sensitivity that belies his lack of sentimentality. He forsakes moss-draped Southern romanticism for a detached, scrutinizing eye. Cohen inspires compassion with his drama of the gifted child torn between a distaste for Bible Belt anti-intellectualism and a need to assimilate among the good ol' boys. You walk away from the The Peddler's Grandson with a sense of the importance of making a separate peace, an understanding that a person can be defined not by how he fits into the world, but by how he stands defiant in the face of a world apart.