Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block


In 2000, Judith Matloff and her husband left their jobs as journalists in Russia and moved to New York, Matloff’s hometown. While John stayed behind to pack their belongings and wind down their life in Moscow, Judith moved in with her mother in Queens and began house hunting. Wanting an urban lifestyle but lacking jobs (and the ability to obtain a mortgage), Matloff agreed to purchase a wreck of a brownstone on a dangerous block in West Harlem. The block was, in fact, considered the epicenter of the Dominican cocaine trade in the Northeast.

And thus begins the adventure. While they are hoping for a lively, culturally diverse community, they were ill-prepared for the legions of dealers who made the block their “office”, and for the customers who came to “shop”. Many of the legitimate looking stores on nearby Broadway were actually fronts for conducting drug related business and for wiring drug money.

Then there is the house. It is plagued by bad plumbing, inadequate wiring, termite infestation, rotted windows, cracked plaster, and every other home renovator’s nightmare. In addition, the businessmen on their street use the tiny front yards as dumping grounds for trash and waste. Inevitably, they find used syringes in the back yard.

Judith Matloff is a veteran journalist, and she struggles to maintain an objective viewpoint to Home Girl. While she is sometimes frightened by her neighbors, she never thinks of leaving her chosen neighborhood. She realizes that she and her family are the outsiders, and they maintain a somewhat uneasy peace with their neighbors.

I really enjoyed reading this. Matloff never takes herself too seriously, and her humor and personality shine. Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewer for sending this book to me.


Published in hardcover-Random House-2008

Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block


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