The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side


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Over the phone, Katherine Greider heard the sudden bad news. An architect hired to recommend a series of repairs to the Greiders' home, an old row house on Manhattan's East Side, had determined from analyzing digital photos taken in a crawlspace below the basment floor, that the house's foundation was so ruined he felt compelled to report the hazard to city officials first thing. He left no doubt as to what Katherine, her husband and kids - and all the rest of the building's residents - shoudl do over the weekend. Greider's abrupt exile from her family's place of refuge began a personl travail, harrowing and comical in roughly equal parts, that involved screaming matches with the neighbors, mounting financial distress, a lawsuit, and other strange and exasperating dealing in the world of New York City real estate. It also launched a fervent inquiry into the past of No. 239 E. 7th Street. Greider's search led her all the way back to the windswept salt grasses that once covered the site of No. 239, the first building ever to rise on its patch of ground. The trail of occupants that her research unearthered inscribes the dramatic story of New York City and of America itself. Notes. 334p.

Editorial Reviews

A narrative of one piece of residential property in New York City's East Village, combined with an idiosyncratic account of the city's growth and a meditation about what makes a house a home.

In January 2002, freelance writer Greider (The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips Off American Consumers, 2003) received an unsettling call. Her Manhattan home on 7th St. between Avenues C and D that she inhabited with her husband and two young children was in danger of collapsing because of structural problems. They had purchased the property about a decade earlier, unaware of its rotting infrastructure. The family moved out quickly into temporary quarters, uncertain whether to rebuild at the same location after the demolition, to move somewhere else in NYC or to leave the city altogether. As Greider fretted, she also decided to learn about the piece of land, the house built upon it, the builders, the generations of inhabitants, the rest of the block, the larger neighborhood, the borough of Manhattan and NYC as a whole. Eventually, the author deepened her inquiries, researching the evolution of private property and home-building. The resulting narrative is a mixed bag. The author incorporates elements of investigative journalism, genealogy, archaeology, sociology,Â;;;; ;;;;philosophy, geography and engineering (the list of disciplines could continue), and the mix of writing styles is nearly as numerous. The poetic mixes with the didactic, and Greider writes alternately in a highly evolved third-personÂ;;;; ;;;;narrative and first-person accounts that occasionally turn maudlin. The author and her husband overcame depression as their temporaryÂ;;;; ;;;;rootlessness stretched out over the years, and they had to counter litigation alleging their failure to maintain the house adequately. Greider countered the depression by examining the worlds of the previous residents over a couple of centuries, documenting their day-to-day lives when the research material allowed, speculating about them when the research failed to provide concrete answers.

The author tries to do too much with one plot of urban land, but she succeeds at much of what she covers.

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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