I’ve been behind in responding to comments on Monday’s post–and on reading your blogs–because I was away, visiting Sedona for a couple of days.
I had a lovely time rebalancing my energies, although I never caught a glimpse of my aura (which I’m sure is coral in color) and didn’t even see any crystals for sale.
On to my memoir review.
I’ve read a lot of stories about the Shoah (the Holocaust), but never one quite like the story of Helen Fremont’s family. Her book, After Long Silence: A Memoir, is truly a blend of genres, regardless of the title.
Fremont is of my generation, but her parents were European refugees who came to the United States after WWII. To everyone outside the family they were a nice Polish-American Catholic family. Inside the nuclear family, they also appeared to be Catholics of Polish ancestry.
The book is about the story Helen discovers when she is an adult. Her parents were actually Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust. They won’t admit it, though–at least not until Helen hounds them for the truth.
From the opening, the main question Helen seeks to answer in the book is “What really happened to my parents during the war years?” Eventually that question turns into “Why do they still want to keep the secret?”
Fremont alternates her story with that of both her parents before and during and right after the war. Once the story of her parents’ paths to survival begins in earnest, Fremont has me completely hooked. Those chapters/sections are to me the essence of the book–and they truly would not be memoir if they were not framed within a memoir. They read like a Holocaust biography or novel–gripping and disturbing. What her parents did to survive shows how far the human spirit and personality can stretch and mold.
The sections about Fremont’s parents’ lives are imagined stories based upon Fremont’s research. This is exactly what I am planning to do with my book, although I have not done enough research yet and have left those portions for last. They won’t take over my story the way Fremont’s parents’ stories take over her memoir. It makes sense that the stories of her parents overshadows Fremont’s own story since the huge secret her parents imposed on their family overshadowed Fremont’s life. But at the end of the book she feels independent of them. This is important because it means she can differentiate herself as an individual adult.
I did a little research after finishing the book. The Afterword made me believe that Fremont’s parents were not happy with the publication of the book, but that Fremont and her sister found Jewish (2nd) cousins they didn’t know existed. I’ve read sources that talk about a rift in the family caused by the book. Then I discovered that after Fremont’s father died, still “estranged” from Judaism, she wanted her father remembered in a Jewish ritual. I found this quote in this article (if I were you, I wouldn’t read the article until after you read the book because it gives away too much of the parents’ story):
“Two weeks ago” – my relative told me – “Helen Fremont was in touch with me and informed me that her father had passed away. She asked me to do something in order to commemorate him according to Jewish tradition. After checking that there was no Halakhic obstacle involved and “although he sinned, he remains a Jew”, I promised that I would say Kaddish for him each time I prayed with a Minyan [quorum of ten required for saying the Kaddish]. And this I do.”
Here are a few posts I’ve written related to the Holocaust:
On Monday, I wrote about Johanna Reiss’s Holocaust memoir The Upstairs Room. As a follow-up I pulled together a list of 20+ Holocaust books for children and teens.
One section of my memoir bookshelf is devoted to books by Holocaust survivors. I read these books years ago, long before I started to think about memoir as a genre. I’ve read Holocaust memoirs written for children and ones written …Continue reading →
Years ago, my friend, Lisa Ercolano, urged me to read a memoir by a friend of hers who had passed away. This is how she describes her friend for this post: Over the quarter of a century that I worked … Continue reading →