At it's heart, this book by a Holocaust survivor's daughter, is a love letter from daughter to mother. In 1990 Fern and her mother Edith, make a trip back to Edith's hometown in Germany. The time has come for Edith to visit the past from which she was cut off 50 years before when her Jewish parents sent her to live with relatives in Chicago. The horrors being heaped upon Jewish citizens were growing every day.
The bulk of this memoir is the story of this trip and the memories that Edith relives by setting foot in her village. This book is a powerful testament to memory and how we care for and shape our memories as we age. Edith visits her family home and picks up dirt off the basement floor as she is overcome with thoughts of her past. She visits an odd museum where she swears she sees some of her family's possessions including her school satchel. These scenes filled me with sadness for Edith, long parted from her family.
Daughter Fern spent her life never really knowing her mother Edith. Edith could never share with Fern her sorrows and her regrets. Fern never knew any of her mother's childhood or memories of life in Germany.
So there they were togther, building bonds about the past. Edith and Fern learned about all that had happened to Edith's parents after she was shipped from Germany to the USA. Everything they see and do in Germany feels meaningful and filled with great sorrow. Toward the end of their trip they hear a confession of a man who treated her family poorly. They meet an old family friend who was filled with vitriol and unhappiness of the time during the war. Where Edith had shut off the past totally, Mina had lived in the past constantly. The contrast between the two old friends couldn't have been more stark.
I loved this story. Every situation pulsed with meaning and reader's will have a richer understanding of the role that memories can play in all our lives. It felt like Fern and Edith were solving a real life mystery that involved cemeteries and old photographs and haunting times. Without spoiling too much, as a reader will want to let this interesting trip unfold to them without knowing much in advance, there is a conversation between Fern and her mother on the last night of the trip which changes the way Fern sees her mother after all these years. It involves Edith's description of being placed on the boat to America and saying good-bye to her parents forvever. It broke my heart.
The writing was excellent and the story sweet and sad. I highly recommend it.