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After Long Silence: A Memoir Hardcover – February 9, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (February 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385333692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333696
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,868,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In her mid-30s Helen Fremont discovered that, although she had been raised in the Midwest as a Catholic, she was in fact the daughter of Polish Jews whose families had been exterminated in the Holocaust. Fremont's tender but unsparing memoir chronicles the voyage of discovery she took with her older sister, ferreting out information from Jewish organizations and individuals and worrying about its impact on their angry, overpowering father and reticent, nightmare-plagued mother. Fremont has the courage to paint a nearly unsympathetic portrait of her parents' secretiveness and initial reluctance to have their children dredge up the past; as the narrative unfolds, readers comprehend the tormented roots of their behavior without forgetting the psychological problems it created for their daughters. Fremont's re-creation of her parents' ghastly ordeals--her mother narrowly escaping the murder of nearly every Jew in her hometown; her father surviving six years in the Soviet gulag--is a triumph of dogged research and sympathetic imagination. Her book tells a deeply American story of identity lost and reclaimed, complete with Fremont coming out to her parents as a lesbian, yet it also achieves understanding of the dark European past and its icy grip on her family. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Fremont's memoir is an incredible tale of survival, a beautiful love story and a suspenseful account of how the author's investigation of her roots shattered fiercely guarded family secrets. Raised Roman Catholic in a Michigan suburb, Fremont knew that her parents had been in concentration camps. Her Polish mother, Batya, was interned in Mussolini's Italy, and her Hungarian-born father, Kovik, was sentenced to life in the Siberian gulag. But her parents refused to talk about their past, and they never let on that they had been born Jews. Fremont, a Boston lawyer and public defender, and her sister, Lara, a psychiatrist, pieced together their parents' hidden past by examining archives and tracking down Holocaust survivors. As Batya and Kovik gradually opened up to discuss their ordeals, Fremont was able to reclaim her Jewish faith and to make sense of a childhood marked by panic attacks and a hyperactive fantasy life. She also divulged a secret of her own when, at the age of 35, she finally told her mother that she is a lesbian. The bombshell coming-out story is secondary to the harrowing account of her parents' traumas: Batya's escape from Nazi-occupied Poland only to be arrested on the Italian border; the bizarre marriage of Fremont's maternal aunt to a government official in Fascist Rome who helped secure Batya's release from an Italian concentration camp; Kovik's escape from Siberia after six years of hard labor and his 1947 reunion with his fiancee in Rome, where they married as Catholics; the couple's emigration to the U.S. in 1950. Though the story is at times emotionally overwhelming, Fremont writes with an admirable restraint that enables her to turn her parents' life, and her own, into a triumphant work of art. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

The book is, however, a good vehicle for discussion.
Helen B. Lane
Ms. Fremont has created a wonderful framework for the telling of HER story.
Daniel W. Krueger
Like Helen Fremont, my parents are also Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
Helene Hoffman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Helene Hoffman on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like Helen Fremont, my parents are also Jewish Holocaust Survivors. However, unlike her, my parents never hid their past. Even with our differences, she does a remarkable job of showing something most children of survivors have in common - how truly difficult it is to "ask" our parents about their past; I label it "a difficult dance" - we, as their children, feel we must know about their past, but we don't want to hurt them by making them spill their guts about the utter inhumantiy they lived through. This is a difficult topic to capture, but Fremont did it magnificently. I also felt tremendous sympathy for her. I truly understand how she felt. The incredible "jolt" (and this is putting it mildly) when she learned her real identity is probably one of the hardest things she has ever had to live through. I hope that committing her story to paper, in the moving way that she did, will help her resolve her background. She should be commended for opening her life to the rest of us.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Daniel W. Krueger on March 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As the son of a survivor, I read this book differently than most. I understand the author's parents need for silence. I also understand the destructiveness of it on the survivors and their children. Ms. Fremont has created a wonderful framework for the telling of HER story.
Those who read this just for the story of her parents are missing the point of writing the book. The silence of her parents - like many survivors of the Shoa - cannot be completely broken, so admittedly the author `fills in' or `imagines' details so painful that her parents are unable or unwilling to remember.
This novel is an exploration into the author's movement OUT OF SILENCE. She skillfully represents this personal growth by sharing with the reader her journey into her family's and her own past. It is during this journey as she questions why her parents kept so silent that she puts herself to the ultimate test and breaks her own conspiracy of silence to her parents and family about her sexual orientation. Bravely she works to stop all the silences of her family - silence of Shoa experiences, silences of avoiding one's true identity - so that they may no longer live in the shadow that silence casts.
The book is to be applauded as a journey to self truth. A journey we are always on and must always work at.
Read the book as a tool to remove your own silences.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Roz Levine on April 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Helen Fremont writes of her struggles uncovering the truth about her family and their past. Raised as a Roman Catholic, she finds out in her thirties that she is actually Jewish. Armed with this knowledge, she, with some help from her sister, begin to look for answers to her family's past. The story that unfolds is remarkable. She finds out how her parents and aunt survived during World War II and how they eventually came to America. But, unfortunately there are many loose ends and holes in the story...information no one would tell her and that she could not find out on her own. Because of this, the book, though riveting, leaves the reader hanging, wanting more facts. One can only hope that Fremont will eventually find out more and be able to write a sequel, to complete her story. This is not just a story of survival, but of the will to live and go on. All in all a good book, proving the adage: Truth is stranger than fiction.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Karen Elizabeth on September 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
I eagerly read this for the first half, even the first three quarters, then it turned increasingly dissatisfying, and now I am left feeling really dirty for having read it. Because as the story came to a close it became more and more apparent that the real heroes of the book, the author's mother and her aunt, did not want the public as voyeurs of their history of personal struggles. The author shared it even though it is clear to anyone that they certainly didn't want it told to the world. I'm embarrassed that I read it, knowing they would rather I hadn't. I think Helen Fremont writes well but something is seriously morally lacking in her. She has a huge honor void. You would think after learning all that about her family that profound respect would prevent her from dishonoring their wishes.

Zosia's tirade against the author is telling. At first I was as shocked as the author must have been, but as it sunk in I realized how much truth there was in her outrage. Clearly, the truth never sunk in for Fremont. The worldly success of having a book published mattered more than respecting her own family. I feel sorry for Fremont. At the end of her life, will she wish she had honored her parents, or published a book? I say she will be sorry. She failed where it mattered. At the moral crossroads, she took the low road.

I understand her wanting to understand her past. I would have understood more if she at least put the book aside and published it after her parents and aunt's death. I feel sorry that her aunt, particularly, after all the hardship she endured, could not live out her days as she chose, her secrets intact.

I have a curious mind myself and this book has been a real lesson for me.
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