the guardian Fri 29 August 2008
Rachel Lichtenstein admits that Brick Lane was "a mythical landscape" for her as a child. She grew up in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex - or Whitechapel-on-Sea, as many of her family's East End friends called it. Her grandparents were Polish-Jewish refugees who opened a jewellers shop at 67 Brick Lane in the 1930s. Her book repopulates that mythical landscape with the Jewish people who used to live in Brick Lane and the Bangladeshi community that now gives the area its unique character. An artist, Lichtenstein has lived and worked there since the 1990s. She weaves together her own experiences with those of her family and interviews with former and current residents, ranging from a Bangladeshi schoolgirl ("Brick Lane is like a part of Bangladesh"), to Iain Sinclair, who used to work in the 300-year-old Truman brewery, and the poet Stephen Watts, who tells her: "There is a tidal wave of sound and memory rushing down that street." The result is a wonderfully evocative and personal portrait. Oral history at its best.