Friday, May 22, 2009

Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

An amazing chronicle of a quest to discover how a family secret evolved. Part memoir, part history, part mystery and part investigative reporting, this book is a must-read.

It is spring in 1995, and author Steve Luxenberg has just discovered that his mother, who had always said she was an only child, had a sister. This startling discovery intrigues the investigative reporter in him as he begins a trip through memories that takes him into a Jewish history that begins in the Ukraine prior to the Holocaust, moves on to America, into a world of physical and mental disabilities, and into the memories of descendants of his mother’s friends. He manages occasionally to discover some living witnesses to the fact that this newly discovered aunt really existed. This is not only a journey of personal discovery, but a discovery of time and place.

The reader is right with the author as he digs into what histories are available for the time periods, 1920s and 30s for nuances of how disabled persons are perceived with shame as if the parents are responsible somehow for what has gone wrong. Add to that the perceptions of children who are “slow” learners and they are immediately classified as “feeble-minded”. These perceptions allowed them to invariably be classed by the courts as “Insane”, placed into an asylum where records were scanty, and in fact many destroyed. The sheer number of patients deposited into these facilities is completely overwhelming. They were virtual cities! Most patients would not have needed to leave home had the knowledge and treatments of today been available then..

Steve Luxenberg’s journey is emotional and thorough and the reader is a constant companion. This is very much his story of the search for “Annie”, and is very well told. Going back generations to get at the truth is heart-wrenching and yet curious to today’s way of thinking. To anyone who has researched their genealogy, much of the way will be familiar to them, or may even be helpful to them. The book is sure to be an eye-opener to anyone who was born after the 1960s. The writing is exceptional, as are the notes in the version I read. Written with honesty and integrity, with an understanding generated from his findings, I commend Steve for baring this family secret with compassion and dedication. Full of history and a mystery to be solved, I highly recommend this book, in fact I would even go so far as to say it should be in every high school library. Though not classified for young adults, they can benefit and enjoy it as much as I, a grandmother did.

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