I still haven’t found a copy of What Happened to Anna K., a novel based on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina taking place in modern day Manhattan and the Bukharian Russian-Jewish immigrant neighborhood of Rego Park, Queens. It’s by Irina Reyn, whom you can learn much more about in this interview with Kevin Kinsella over at Maud Newton’s place.
According to Dan Cryer’s review in Newsday, Reyn’s book involves a hip Manhattanite who falls in with the tightly knit Bukharian community in Rego Park (where I live). I am not a “Bukh” myself, but I am fascinated by these neighbors of mine. Here is a photo I took of a wild scene I walked into one evening on the way home from work. Apparently they were celebrating the arrival of a Torah to their synagogue on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park in the old movie theatre near the Dunkin’ Donuts and Knish Nosh.
I’m a fool for classical retellings, so I’d probably like Irina Reyn’s book in any setting, but the Rego Park connection clinches it for me. I’ve long felt an artistic spirit on these familiar blocks. The most literary spot in Rego Park is probably the house where Art Spiegelman grew up, and just a few blocks over from that is the house where the Bunkers and Stivics lived. The Ramones grew up on the border between Rego Park and its slightly richer neighbor Forest Hills, Simon and Garfunkel’s little town, and just north of Forest Hills is the town of Corona, where little Paul and some kid named Julio apparently got into trouble in a schoolyard, or so we’ve heard. (Forest Hills is also proud of Helen Keller and Geraldine Ferraro).
Louis Armstrong lived in Corona, and at the end of his life Malcolm X brought his family to East Elmhurst, next to Corona, for a safe refuge in New York City (his enemies burned the house down). But the most literary spot in north central Queens is Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the beautiful and doomed Shea Stadium stands directly over the famous “ash piles” — a garbage dump landfill — described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.
Oh, there’s more literature in Central Queens. Katharine Weber is from Forest Hills, and I’m pretty sure Austin Street gets a shout-out in Triangle. Jack Kerouac lived in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill. Joseph Cornell lived out east on Utopia Parkway, near where the Taco Bell is now. Most of Goodfellas took place in Central or South Central Queens. Spiderman lived on Ingram Street in Forest Hills, and there’s a Woodhaven Boulevard mention in the first Spiderman movie. The Wiz was filmed in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. There was a good story about the Rego Park little league fields in Akashic’s Queens Noir. Oh yeah, there’s tennis.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: forget about Brooklyn. Queens, for over ten years the most ethnically diverse county in the United States of America, has the biggest and widest literary heart in New York City.
And no, you won’t see Paul Auster walking down the street in Rego Park or Forest Hills. But we have better restaurants, and that’s the truth.