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Terra Infirma: A Memoir of My Mother's Life in Mine Paperback – March 28, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken (March 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805211101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805211108
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 4.9 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,501,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the months following his mother's death from cancer at age 54, Rodger Kamenetz (a poet, and the author of The Jew in the Lotus) had three dreams in which she appeared to him, offering clues to the secrets of her life. After the third dream, Kamenetz began writing Terra Infirma: A Memoir of My Mother's Life in Mine, a tragic story about the way his mother's tyrannical passion for her family shaped Kamenetz's life and prevented him from becoming a man until she was gone. The book is a collection of essays modeled after those of Montaigne, and their form is best described as purposeful wandering. The first chapters begin with Kamenetz's dreams, move on to his meditations on her piano (the household object that seemed most "to radiate my mother's spirit"), and then question why his mother hid from him all the details of her childhood, including the identity of her own mother. Throughout, the book contains vivid profiles of his family members and friends, poignant descriptions of his bewildered participation in Jewish mourning rituals, and painful descriptions of the technology that kept his mother alive until she gave herself up as "just a body in danger." Kamenetz's final chapter, a reckoning with his mother's last words--"I love you"--is especially affecting; like the book as a whole, it offers little solace to those who hope that life will make sense in the end, and great encouragement to those who realize that what sense life has is the sense we make of it. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Poet and author Kamenetz (The Jew in the Lotus, 1994) turns his gaze more powerfully inward than ever before in this slender, emotionally searing recollection of his mother's life and death. His mother died of cancer at 54, ravaged by a typically long and painful battle with the disease. Her son was with her when she died, along with her husband and one of her two twin daughters, and Kamenetz recounts the exact moment of her death in carefully observed detail and strikingly modulated tones. The rest of his essay maintains the mode of careful observationthe book is most powerful whenever the author draws upon the resonance of objects to convey the pain of emotionsbut the tone veers, quite intentionally, between the detached coolness of the early pages, occasional dashes of humor, and a more openly agonizing self-assessment. Kamenetz's relationship with his mother was rocky, as she yo-yoed between a smothering affection and a fierce anger. As a result, mother and son seemed to spend much time circling each other warily, like two planets held in a painful orbit by mutually powerful gravitational fields. Using essayist Montaigne as a model, Kamenetz tells his own story in a discursive, digressive style, ranging from mordant and funny ruminations on marriage and the nuclear family to harrowing descriptions of illness. He writes like the poet he is, wonderfully drunk on language and constantly serving up fresh metaphors for familiar emotions and experiences. His love for his motherdifficult, savage, sometimes lapsing into a paradoxically deep distasteemerges clearly. At times a frightening read, but an honest and thoughtful one. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Rodger Kamenetz is an award-winning poet, author and teacher. Of his eleven books, his best known is The Jew in the Lotus, the story of rabbis making a holy pilgrimage through India to meet with the Dalai Lama. His account of their historic dialogue became an international bestseller, prompting a reevaluation of Judaism in the light of Buddhist thought. Now in its twentieth year of publication and its 35th printing overall, The Jew in the Lotus is a staple of college religion courses. The New York Times called it a "revered text." A PBS documentary followed, and a sequel, Stalking Elijah, won him the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought.

Kamenetz's six books of poetry include To Die Next To You and The Lowercase Jew. He has been called "the most formidable of the Jewish-American poets." His memoir, Terra Infirma was described as "one of the most beautiful books ever written about a mother and a son."

When The History of Last Night's Dream appeared in 2007, Oprah Winfrey interviewed him on her "Soul Series" program, saying, "What's so exciting about this book is that it talks about how there's a whole other life that we are living when we sleep and that our dreams are there as offerings and gifts to us if we only recognize what the dreams are there to teach us."

Kamenetz's latest work of non-fiction 2010's Burnt Books, in Schocken/Nextbook's Jewish Encounters series, once again crosses boundaries, between literature and religion. It begins as a dual biography of Franz Kafka and Rebbe Nachman, who each asked his best friend to burn his books. It ends with Kamenetz on his own pilgrimage to Kafka's Prague and to the rebbe's grave in Ukraine.

Born in Baltimore, Rodger Kamenetz has degrees from Yale, Johns Hopkins and Stanford. At Louisiana State University, he held a dual appointment as a Professor of English and Professor of Religious Studies and founded the MFA program in creative writing and the Jewish Studies minor. He retired as LSU Distinguished Professor and Sternberg Honors Chair Professor. He lives in New Orleans where he devotes himself now to his work with clients who seek spiritual direction through dreams.


For more information about Rodger Kamenetz, visit his website at http://kamenetz.com, or meet him on Facebook, or follow him on twitter at
www.twitter.com/Jewinthelotus

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
From New Orleans Times Picayune January 24, 1999 SONGS FOR MY MOTHER by SUSAN LARSON Book editor Poet Kathleen Fraser wrote, "One hears one's childhood and it is ancient." So adults repeat the patterns of the past, haunted, dreaming, often grieving, as childhood echoes reverberate through hearts and minds. In his powerful memoir of his mother's life, Terra Infirma, poet and teacher Rodger Kamenetz has crafted a sad and enduring tale of mothers and sons. He begins with his mother's dying of cancer at age 54. Her last words were, "I love you." He writes, "Her dying words were a triumph. They hold me still in their grip." Haunted by dreams after her death, Kamenetz began to unravel the mysteries of his mother's life. The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Miriam Kamenetz rarely spoke of her painful past. After her mother was committed to a mental institution following two failed marriages, Miriam was shuttled among relatives, abandoned by both parents, finally ending up in a foster home. Determined to control her own life, she developed "a fierce drive. It was all mind over matter, will over circumstance." When she made her successful marriage, she never discussed her past, never told her children about her own life until she was near death. When she developed colon cancer, her pride played a part in her eventual death. Like any child of a willful, powerful parent, Kamenetz sought escape - both geographical and mental - and refuge in poetry. Later, when he has his own children, Kamenetz watches his young daughter learn the meaning of the world 'no': "She loved to say it. Do you want to eat? No. Do you want to get dressed? No. Do you want to go to sleep? No. (She doesn't even know how to say yes.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on April 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
After the end of WWII, the term "children of silence" has been used to refer to children brought up by parents who had traumatic experiences and decided to remain silent with respect to the past. Children brought up in this silence invariably have problems in facing reality; silence creates a void in their lives they desperately seek to understand (refer to "Apples from the Desert," by Savyon Liebrecht). Rober Kamenetz, (poet, author of "The Jew in the Lotus) is also a victim of silence, and as a poet his book "Terra Infirma" represents his cathartic, emotional battle to untangle this issue. In a style that is both lyrical and poetic, Kamenetz writes a sad, tragic story, filled with anger, regret, and love.
His mother, Miriam Kamenetz, refuses to speak of her past until the last stages of her illness. Granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, her mother died in a mental institution, her father abandoned her in the hands of relatives, and eventually she was sent to a foster home. Upon a successful marriage, she is determined to erase her past, to place mind over matter. She becomes a fierce, willful mother, with a passionate love, channeling all her aspirations through her children. This love suffocates the author in a metaphorical umbilical cord that is only cut with her death. Poetry becomes the refuge in this shaky (terra infirma) relationship between mother and child. The tension reaches its climax when the author confronts his mother through dreams, submerging him in a Freudian dream analysis. Kamenetz's purpose in his book is to write about death of a loved one without being sentimental, as a healing and spiritual process. If Kamenetz saw his mother's sadness as "a song without lyrics," he has certainly given lyrics to her song, showing that his mother's all-embracing love bears a reciprocal love from her son.
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