Bensonhurst native Marco Manfre makes his literary debut with “The Outcast Prophet of Bensonhurst,” a coming-of-age novel about a boy growing up in Bensonhurst in the 1950s through 1971.
The book follows Anacleto, a shy, reclusive personality with an eccentric family. His family ties and personality make Anacleto an outcast in his neighborhood. Throughout the story, Anacleto struggles with family problems, religious beliefs, free speech, and the war in Vietnam, all while painting a vivid picture of Bensonhurst in a past era.
“I think the book really captures the true essence of Bensonhurst at the time,” Manfre told Bensonhurst Bean. “One part describes how we used to play street games, especially stickball, in the street with what we called a ‘spaldeen.’ It was a pink rubber ball that was a imitation of a Spalding ball. We used to go to the movies every weekend for 26 cents. The theater showed a double feature, plus a newsreel and cartoons. These middle aged women called matrons would walk up and down the aisle looking for bad kids. Everyone’s family knew each other and watched out for each other. There were candy stores everywhere, and the pharmacies had malted machines. I would be 11 or 12 years old taking the train to the city with my friends. Growing up I never wished to live anywhere else. I don’t think the book would have been the same had I lived somewhere else.”
After graduating high school, Manfre’s mother gave him two choices: Join the Army or go to college. The ultimatum, he says, was given to his friends by their mothers as well.
Manfre chose to attend Brooklyn College, which, minus books and a registration fee, was free for students. In the story, Anacleto’s older brothers chose to join the Army and came back emotionally scarred after fighting in the Vietnam War.
The book gives readers a feeling for the anti-war sentiment that was spreading at the time, which Manfre said is very similar to the general public’s feelings towards the recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book takes place in past decades, but the issues the characters deal with are topics that are relevant today, especially religion, racism, drug abuse and growing up.
According to Manfre, the biggest change in the neighborhood since that time is the demographics. While the Bensonhurst of today is home to immigrants from various parts of the world including Asia, Central America and Eastern Europe, the area at the time was almost strictly Italian and Jewish.
Aside from the shifting demographics, the heart of Bensonhurst, and Brooklyn as a whole, remains the same.
It is “a city of walkers,” as Manfre puts it. To Manfre, it is a place where you can step outside of your house and immediately see interesting people and unique places. There is always someone to talk to in New York and always something to do.
Though the characters in the story face challenges that most people deal with, the setting of the book could only be Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.