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Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Bending Toward the Sun stirred in me many emotions and thoughts that I did not expect to experience while reading this book. It is a multi-generational memoir beginning when now grandmother, Rita Lurie, is a young child during the Holocaust. This book is advertised as a memoir about the Holocaust, and while that does definitely have a significant place in the lives of these women and is the foundation for much of the thoughts and feelings experienced by them, it is not what defines this memoir. I was drawn to many different themes in this book -- mainly to those about the often frustrating dynamics in mother-daughter relationships and to those themes regarding cultural differences and their effect on those individuals living through them.
Before reading any more of this review, you may want to watch a short interview with the three women on the Today show. I watched it before I read this book and it gave me a great introduction to whom I was to read about. That interview is here, and there is also an excerpt there if you're interested.
The memoir starts off with Rita describing her childhood from the time of the war and when they had to go into hiding. This part is, as you can imagine, heartbreaking. The entire book is well done in that it tells of a life story without spending too long on each topic as memoirs sometimes tend to do. It moves at a consistent pace throughout which maintains the readers' interest. The effects of the Holocaust are long lasting on Rita and she takes us through the events of the rest of her life including the birth and raising of her children.
The second part of the book is then the thoughts of Rita's daughter, Leslie. She grows up feeling a fierce protectiveness toward her mother as well as separation anxiety. This is all despite the many successes and accomplishments throughout the years. She discusses then the birth of her children and how her daughter, Mikaela, appears to have all the same anxieties toward her. It is then that Leslie starts to learn more about how trauma survivors can often pass down their anxieties to the next generation and so on. The memoir doesn't delve into this topic too much to exhaust the casual reader, but enough that it may pique the interest of those interested in psychology and mental health.
But as I mentioned above, what I enjoyed best about this book was both the multi-generational method of story-telling and the mother-daughter dynamics. The multi-generational aspect is something often seen in fiction, but I have never read a memoir in this fashion. I found it fascinating to follow the lives from the time Rita was a child through to her daughter's life and then through to another. This may be a result of my personal lack of multi-generational knowledge. I was never close with my maternal grandparents due to geographical and language barriers. Then, cultural differences often caused similar clashes between my mother and me that I read about here with Rita and Leslie, and for me it was almost therapeutic reading about it and being able to identify similarities in their interactions. The book is peppered throughout with pictures of Rita growing up, and of Leslie too. I love having a variety of pictures in memoirs so I can see the people I am reading about.
In the book, Leslie states that her mother, Rita, wanted to document her experience during the Holocaust, being, as she is, one from the last generation of survivors. I, too, think it's important and wonderful for her to document her history. As Leslie also stated, Rita's life and experiences are possibly what Anne Frank may experienced had she lived. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.
Thank you to FSB Associates for providing me with a copy of this book for review!