One-Legged Mongoose by Marc J. Straus
Secrets, Legacies, and Coming of Age in the 1950’s New York
It’s June 1953, and 10-year-old Marc Straus is in his mother’s car, getting sick from her cigarette smoke on his way to a Hebrew lesson. He and his brother, Stephen, are transferring from public school to a Yeshiva. His parents haven’t said why-the family isn’t religious. All Marc knows is he’ll have to protect Stephen, a delicate kid other kids pick on. Marc’s a street fighter who knows how to wall off pain.
So begins One-Legged Mongoose, Marc Straus’s vivid, compelling, you-are-there memoir of two years in the life of a precocious, scrappy Jewish kid carrying a dark secret as he embarks on the journey to young manhood in 1950s New York. When school starts, Marc begins commuting four hours daily to a different world, where kids are smart like him and a caring principal takes the troubled truant under his wing. On Sundays, Marc works at his dad’s textile store, learning about honor and hard work. At home, he faces his volatile mother.
A perceptive, courageous kid, Marc encounters anti-Semitism in public school, the community, and the Boy Scouts. On a camping trip, his troop leader asks the boys to search for a half-man-half-beast predator called the One-Legged Mongoose who devours human prey. “Why not?” Marc reasons. “I know all about monsters.”
Sidelined too often by illness and accidents, including a bout with polio and being hit by a car, Marc starts rethinking his risk-taking way of life and realizes he’s not invincible. Life will wound him, but the rest is up to him.
One-Legged Mongoose is a warm, funny, searing memoir about the challenges of crossing from childhood to young adulthood. It’s an inspiring story of one boy’s struggle to survive an abusive home, understand the world around him, and embrace responsibility for his own life.
Year first published: 2021