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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Matloff, Judith: Home Girl

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

After some twenty years working as a journalist in the world's worst trouble spots, where being chased by a machete-wielding madman or having an AK47 shoved in one's chest was close to routine, Judith Matloff decided to settle down with her husband John somewhere civilized, somewhere where the government worked and you could feel comfortable raising a family. Inexplicably, they settled on buying a termite-infested fixer-upper in West Harlem, a 19th-century row house that sat lopsided on a street that was governed by Dominican drug dealers. Buying the house was the usual trial, but claiming it from the neighborhood thugs presented difficulties most new home owners don't have to face: buddying up to the lieutenant of the local drug crew so his minions wouldn't urinate on her steps, purging the back yard of spent needles. Matloff soon met the locals, most notoriously a certain "Salami," so-called because of the length and complexion of his penis, who squatted in the plumbingless house next door. Salami and his one-eyed girlfriend "Bitch," aka "Charm," routinely threw bags of excrement into their back yard, which of course impacted the air quality on Matloff's side of the fence.

The house Matloff and her husband bought needed a tremendous amount of work, but it had good bones. The neighborhood had good bones, too. It had been infiltrated by drug dealers in the 1980s, and police raids were a routine form of entertainment. But while much of the neighborhood was filled with the likes of Salami, there were also a large number of houses still in the hands of older families, people who were unhappily waiting out the dealers' tenure, sometimes cooperating clandestinely with the police.

Matloff does a good job of painting a picture of a close-to-hopeless neighborhood where honest people have to make compromises in order to survive. She even manages to get across what she finds charming about her new home: the vibrant street life, the mix of cultures. She will not, I think, be able to convince many readers that having a baby in such an environment was a smart decision, however successfully it seems to have turned out for her. But I guess if you're used to living amidst the carnage of Rwanda or the Sudan then negotiating with drug dealers for parking spaces isn't so problematic.

Matloff's writing is proficient but not charming. Likewise, her book is interesting in many parts, but it goes on too long and provides too much detail. It's a decent read, that is, but would have been much improved if perhaps a third of it had been edited out.

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