In this affectionate travelogue disguised as a novel, best-selling writer Mark Kurlansky ("Cod," "Salt" and "1968"), re-creates a lower Eastside ...

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“Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt and Music”

by Mark Kurlansky

Ballantine, 319 pp., $24.95

In this affectionate travelogue disguised as a novel, best-selling writer Mark Kurlansky (“Cod,” “Salt” and “1968”), re-creates a lower Eastside neighborhood in late 1980s Manhattan. Here, just south of Houston Street, Jews, Latinos, Germans and Sicilians somehow manage to build a vibrant community while slurring each other on a daily basis.

Right in the middle of the mix is Nathan Seltzer, a middle-age Jew, who runs the neighborhood copy shop, an enterprise that doesn’t make much money but functions nicely as a community center. Nathan is confused about his life.

He loves his wife, Sonia, and his precocious 3-year-old daughter Sarah, yet he lusts after a voluptuous German pastry maker named Karoline (whose father may have been a Nazi). Further complicating matters in “Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue,” Nathan is weighing a buyout offer on his shop from Copy Katz, a successful copy chain; and he appears to have developed claustrophobia.

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If all this weren’t enough, there is a crazed drug addict murdering people in the neighborhood.

If any of this sounds serious, it isn’t. Kurlansky isn’t really interested in his plot, which often gets lost in his numerous digressions. What he loves are the melting-pot conversations — how people sound on the street and in the shop. He loves the food they make and the smells that permeate his slice of Manhattan:

“The summer air, sluggish and chewy as caramel, had the sweet-bitter smell of things rotting and things cooking — of last night’s chicken bones and fish heads, and frying cuchifrito and potato knishes, of Greek and Italian and Israeli sandwiches, and decomposing mango and orange peels.” Reading “Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue” is like watching a family slide show of somebody else’s family: funny in spots, way too long, indulgent, repetitious and loving.