When I’ve already reviewed a book, I don’t usually review its sequel as well. In this case I am doing that, because although I enjoyed Paris to the Moon, I really loved Through the Children’s Gate, the follow-up memoir about the Gopnik family’s return to New York with two young children after five years in Paris.
This is a lovely book of thoughtful, often funny pieces about living in New York. As with Paris to the Moon, there are times when Gopnik’s “much ado about nothing” style gets irritating — he takes minute aspects of everyday life and extracts Deep Thoughts from them, and sometimes the result is a little … strained. But it’s the kind of irritation you feel with a close friend who sometimes goes on a little too much — nothing that would make me want to put the book down.
Gopnik is at his best when he’s writing about his kids — or at least, that’s when he appeals to me the most. Some of his pieces about parenting are both laugh-out-loud funny, and at the same time unerringly accurate in their portrayal of the heartbreaks and rewards of middle-class North American family life in the twenty-first century. The chapters about the death of the pet fish Bluie, Olivia’s imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli, and the “screens-free” sleepover for two eleven-year-old boys, are each worth the purchase price of the book in themselves.
Apart from family, it’s obvious that Gopnik’s great love here is New York City. After writing about Paris with an outsider’s eye, he returns to New York and writes from the perspective of someone who has lived in the city and loved it for years. He and his family move back to Manhattan just in time for the city’s biggest shock — the 9/11 attacks — and the awareness of that event and its aftermath colours the whole book. Through the Children’s Gate is a funny, perceptive, loving tribute to the city and one family’s place in it.