Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Prayer for the City - Buzz Bissinger

a prayer for the city
buzz bissinger
c. 1998
379 pages
completed 7/16/2010

read for: hstaa303 (modern american civilization)

*may contain spoilers*

Success followed success and as he persuaded more and more people with the spontaneous symphony of his hands and the infectious rhythm of his voice to see a place he saw, it became easier to believe that there was something wondrous about him, regardless of the patches of hair sprouting from his head like a failed English garden, not to mention the balled-up blue suits that looked as if they had been burrowed away in gym bags.

During the early '90s, Buzz Bissinger enjoyed almost unfettered access to the Ed Rendell, mayor of Philadelphia. The information he gathered was used to novelize the first five years of Rendell's term in office attempting to rebuild a city that was falling apart. A Prayer for the City tells a story of race relations, unemployment, murder, but also one of hope and hard work. Littered with characters who worked within Rendell's administration such as his chief of staff David Cohen, as well as people just trying to survive in the city, such as Linda Morris, Fifi Mazzccua, Mike McGovern, and Jim Mangan, we are offered insight into the unimaginable struggles to keep America's cities afloat.

I was supposed to read this for my America History class this past quarter. And I did. Or at least I read about half of it by the time the final came around. But that was fine. I had read enough to participate in the discussions and write about it on final if I had to. Most books like this assigned for a particular class I would have abandoned as soon as I turned in that bluebook, but there was something that kept pulling me back to pick it up and read a little bit more. The people discussed were compelling and the draw of the city itself and wanting to see it get better forced me to continue. So here I am, a month after the quarter ended, finally finished with the book.

A Prayer for the City is non fiction but it's written almost as a novel. There's conversation and character development and a somewhat moving plot. We not only see the struggles of the city from the government's point of view, but also just from the people. We watch Mike McGovern make the decision to give up his life as a Philadelphia district attorney and take his family to the outskirts of the city and take up criminal defense. We see Jim Mangan soldier on during cut backs at the ship yard until the yard is closed entirely. And we see Fifi Mazzccua raise her children and grandchildren in a poor area of the city, some of whom fall into violence and jail time, but some who don't. It was easy to feel a connection the these people and a hope for them to succeed. Ed Rendell became mayor to one of the most struggling cities in America, but despite a lot of set backs and failures, there was progress.


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