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Her Last Death: A Memoir Paperback – October 7, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Susanna's mother gave her a copy of Penthouse when she was a ten-year-old, cocaine when she was 12, and seduced her boyfriend at 14. Sonnenberg recounts "the true calamity of being daughter to this mother." The glory of this memoir is that the author survived her traumatic childhood and somehow navigated her way to a deftly written book capturing her dismantled youth. The daughter of a glamorous, falling-down addict of a mother and a gifted, self-absorbed father, Sonnenberg never falls into the trap of attempting to analyze two people never meant to be parents. Instead, we are allowed to feel the strange and powerful familial currencies running between mother and daughter through the keenly observed writing of Sonnenberg. The writing is razor-sharp and raw, a significant feat considering the untethered early years of this immensely talented writer. --Molly Jay --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Sonnenberg's curse is her beautiful self-centered and crazy mother, who lies continually, does drugs and navigates through the world with sex as her sole point of reference. Her father is cold and distant. Add in abundant family money, and you have the story of a young girl who grows up in a world of privilege, abuse and despicable behavior all around. Readers get a good dose of drug use, foul language, manipulative behaviors, an accounting of Sonnenberg's affair with her high school English teacher and one chapter titled Sex with Everybody. The freelance writer's story is titillating, and her writing is strong and clear, though the power is diluted when she blurs the lines of nonfiction: I have conflated or changed some events and dialogue, and created occasional composites. Readers not bothered by the conceit will likely follow along through the outrageous and nasty operational tactics of Sonnenberg's mother until the story line leads to her redemption. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Featured Author: Susanna Sonnenberg
Read an excerpt and reader's guide from Susanna Sonnenberg's Her Last Death. Also, see our exclusive author Q&A.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743291093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743291095
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's been a long time since a personal memoir stayed with me for so long after I turned the last page.

Sonnenberg is living proof that money and privilege don't insure happiness ... or even a glimpse at normalcy.

Sonnenberg's grandfather was one of New York City's most successful publicity machines. Her father was somewhat of a literary star, especially during the 1960s. He grew up in one of the city's most recognizable mansions, The Fish House, at 19 Gramercy Park South. He had a fling with Susanna's mother when she was 15, got her pregnant and married her when she was 16.

Sonnenberg's maternal roots are just as impressive, even though she changes their names, so we can't Google them for more background. Her maternal grandfather was a successful musician and wrote tunes for the movies. Her grandmother could have been Carole Lombard's twin. After the two divorced, 'Patsy,' as Sonneberg calls her, had houses in Barbados, London and Monte Carlo.

Forget Joan Crawford and the wire hangers. 'Daphne' was addicted to drugs, sex and rock 'n rollers. If Sonnenberg has written the truth, it's a wonder Daphne survived her addiction to morphine, cocaine, Valium and percodan, not to mention her binge drinking. She was hospitalized for mental meltdowns on numerous occasions. She taught Sonnenberg how to give her drugs with needles. When Sonnenberg was 12, Daphne gave the child cocaine, telling her it was important for her to know the difference between quality cocaine and powder that had been "cut," or watered down. Daphne seduced her daughter's boyfriends. She had sex on Daphne's bed at boarding school. She punched her daughter in the stomach, a lot.
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By Amy on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the most courageous and riveting memoir I've ever read. The author unflinchingly recounts the details of her traumatic and frequently disturbing upbringing. She allows us to see into the life of a financially privileged, yet emotionally and physically abusive family where anything goes. She bravely shares her own darkest moments in her journey to free herself from the pattern of histrionic behavior that has been the norm for her entire life. It is a triumphant and inspiring story of a chronically codependent mother-daughter relationship. An absolute must-read.
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Format: Hardcover
I love memoirs and I found Her last Death to be hard to leave when I had to go to work, but I have a few quibbles.

The book started off wrongly in the preface where the author, Susannah Sonnenberg, warns us that the only "real" character in the book is her; everyone else has a pseudonym and people and events may be composites of characters and situations. That is not the definition of a memoir, in my opinion. Rather, I felt I was reading fiction into which the author had inserted herself. Therefore, I have no idea if what she wrote actually happened as described or if the people she wrote about, including most of all, her mother and sister and her wealthy grandparents, really existed. A memoir, at least since James Frey got reamed out by Oprah, is about real people and real occurrences.

I also must admit I didn't like almost all of the people described in the book, including the author most of the time. Her husband remains a complete enigma (leading me to believe he's boringly normal) but that he doesn't seem to buy into her dramas says a lot about him. Her father has some interesting qualities and more so as his neurological disease has progressed. The mother, of course, is singularly distasteful in almost every aspect and it seems she has similarly doomed the younger sister. Her story is one of rampant, unrepentant child sexual abuse, passive aggressiveness, and deceit intended for no other purpose than to hurt her children in ways I haven't seen anywhere before. Everything she did was so inappropriately perfused with sexuality in dangerous and unspeakable ways. Should the author rear her two sons to be honest, decent, responsible, and loving adults, that will be a monumental credit to her ability to overcome her dreadful family.
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5 Comments 45 of 52 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I cannot join the rhapsody of praise critics have lavished on Susanna Sonnenberg's memoir, "Her Last Death." Initially I felt pity for the author, but soon enough, compassion changed to contempt, engagement became indifference. Sonnenberg is the daughter of enormously wealthy and spiritually bankrupt parents, and her youth was spent in astonishing material affluence. As if to compensate for the surfeit of money surrounding Susanna, her parents proved to be incompetent, emotionally distant and cruel, especially her mother, who may well lay claim to have her own room in the Hall of Fame for liars. "Her Last Death" is a voyeuristic, embarrassing description of abuse; lacking universal lessons, the memoir abounds with grimy, disheartening revelations

The premise of the memoir is an answer to a question: Why does a daughter refuse to fly from her Montana home to be at the bedside of her comatose mother? For the next 250 pages, Ms. Sonnenberg gives us, in excruciating detail, the reason for her decision. We learn that her mother, Daphne, is a pathological liar and a sex maniac. Disdainful of any personal boundaries that may separate her from her daughter, Daphne attempts to indoctrinate her young daughter into a world of hedonism where indiscriminate sexual encounters and casual use of addictive drugs abound..

Given this endless catalogue of abuse, it is paradoxical that Sonnenberg never figures out how to stop her own self-absorption. Both mother and daughter are self-absorbed and limited people; their addiction to conspicuous consumption distances themselves not only from each other, but from the real world.
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