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A Family of Strangers Paperback – November 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193251144X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932511444
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tall, poet and editor of the Seneca Review, has long championed a form called the lyric essay, which employs the associative movement and lyrical suggestiveness of poetry while also maintaining the familiar narrative structures and conventional organization of prose. In a singular extended work in this form, Tall (Summons) constructs a powerful account of her search for the origins of her Ukrainian Jewish family; her parents and other relatives emigrated to the U.S. around WWII and proceeded to disavow their past in an effort to overcome traumatic memories of pogroms and Nazi genocide. Throughout her upbringing, Tall's parents maintained a strict, if suspicious, silence about their relatives and lives before emigrating, leaving Tall, now a wife and mother of two daughters, desperate for information about her family history. In short chapters bearing repeated titles ("Anatomy of Secrecy," "The Dream of Family"), Tall movingly traces her genealogical quest, which leads her to the discovery of her family's pre–Ellis Island name (Talesnick), the revelation of a forgotten uncle abandoned to a mental institution and, finally, a meeting with her family's last ailing matriarch near Ladyzin, Ukraine. This deeply affecting account offers new formal avenues for memoir while providing a necessary piece of the ever-unfolding puzzle of 20th-century Jewish diaspora. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Poet and poetic nonfiction writer Tall has created a family memoir at once painful and palliative. In a time of rekindled anti-Semitism, it is an act of affirmation and protest to search for hidden truths about Jewish families fractured by genocidal violence. Tall's recovery of her father's lost family history is akin in content to Dorothy Gallagher's Strangers in the House (2006) and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost (2006) but is utterly her own in its beautiful and sage distillation. Concentrating complex psychology into piercingly clear sentences in stanzalike chapters, Tall extracts the emotional truths of her postwar suburban childhood in a household ruled by silence and devoid of links to past generations. Determined to dispel the shadows of her parents' secrecy and understand her bred-in-the-bone legacy of loss, Tall finally uncovers a trail of deception wrought in the service of survival that leads to long-lost relatives in the U.S and the Ukraine. As Tall's singular insights evolve page by page in this quietly dramatic chronicle of bloodlines, she comes to understand how resistance to the brutality of the past makes the present possible, even as she knows that "memory is an ethical act." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tanja Lessner on April 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
The author was born on the east coast of the USA. Her parents talked little about their family histories and her father was particularly reticent about his past. The book is the story of the author's quest to find out the history of her father's family. She discovers a half-uncle and a half-aunt, learns of a full uncle who spent his life institutionalized, visits the village in Ukraine where her grandfather was born, and more.

There are of course a lot of memoirs, especially by Americans, of the quest for family history and genealogy. I'll mention two things that make this book better than average. One is the the writing style: the book is not poetry, but it is not quite prose either, and against all odds, the author makes this work -- quite an achievement. Second, the book does a really good job of showing how those who investigate their family history encounter living relatives who are totally different from them. Those who pursue genealogy are typically bright, inquisitive, and educated folks, but their near relatives may be people with entirely different values who would rather separate themselves from the past rather than linking themselves to it.

The book will also appeal to those interested in the history of immigration from eastern Europe to the USA. Though Tall's family was Jewish, the book dwells very little on specifically Jewish identity or experience.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lost John on February 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Deborah Tall, a poet, teacher, editor and gifted writer of 'creative non-fiction', died, aged 55, in October 2006. She was a third generation American Jew, whose father's parents (and some other relations) were fortunate to escape Ukraine with their lives in the period of lethal pogroms during the Civil War that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. The family name, contracted to Tall on arrival in the United States, was Talesnick.

Born in New York City in 1921, her father was orphaned at the age of 13. For reasons perhaps connected with their disapproval of his mother, his remaining relatives did not take him in. Homeless and penniless, he was made a ward of the city. He was clever, recovered from the initial set-back at school, was successful in his career and, working on Cold War radar surveillance, extended to the limit his predisposition to confide nothing to anyone. Despite years of probing, when he died, aged 68, Deborah knew little of her family's origin and background, or whether she had any close relatives still alive in America or Ukraine. But she had gleaned just enough information to follow the leads she had and discover much that her father must have known but kept entirely to himself, some things that perhaps even he did not know, and a couple of things about which he had apparently lied.

In Queens, NYC, she discovers a burial ground filled with former residents of the small town in Ukraine from which her grandfather and his brother migrated, and that there are more than a few Talesnicks buried there. She discovers some still-living relations, and is delighted by their warm response to her.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Writer on October 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Deborah Tall, professor of English and Comparative Literature, died on October 19 at age 55 after two years of resisting inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, aggressive form of the disease. She had lived in Ithaca, N.Y., since 1990 with her husband of 27 years, David Weiss, and their daughters, Zoe and Clea Weiss.

Since 1982, Tall taught at Hobart and William Smith where she was named The John Milton Potter Professor of Humanities and won the 2001 Faculty Scholarship Award, as well as numerous faculty research grants. She was editor of the literary journal Seneca Review.

"Deborah was deeply admired throughout our community and far beyond," said President Mark D. Gearan. "She inspired us with her original talent as a writer and her dedication to literature, teaching, her family and her friends. Those close to her will be able to share their memories in a public celebration of her life to be held on campus this fall."

Both a poet and nonfiction writer, she was published widely and gave readings and talks around the world. Her books include Summons, which was selected by Charles Simic for the Katherine A. Morton Poetry Prize in 1999; The Island of the White Cow; From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place; and The Poet's Notebook, which she co-edited with Hobart alumnus Stephen Kuusisto and Hobart and William Smith Professor of English David Weiss. A memoir, A Family of Strangers, has just come out this fall from Sarabande Books.

Born in Washington, D.C., she grew up in the Philadelphia area and spent five formative years on Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland. She earned a B.S. in English from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College.
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