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Where She Came from: A Daughter's Search for Her Mother's History Hardcover – November 1, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Along with millions of lives, the Holocaust stripped away the official records and family mementos that anchor personal histories. In 1989, after both the opening of Czechoslovakia to the outside world and the death of her mother Frances, a concentration-camp survivor, journalist Helen Epstein made her first tentative efforts to uncover her own history. Armed only with a 12-page letter written by her mother, she retraced family footsteps from the provincial town of Brtnice to Vienna, where her great-grandmother Josephine had killed herself in despair. In Prague, her spirited grandmother Pepi, who had been orphaned at age 8 and left in poverty, rose from those ashes to run a fashionable dressmaking salon. Pepi married a man who repudiated Judaism so completely that their daughter Frances learned of her background only as the Nazis rose to power. Epstein's meticulous research beautifully conjures the drama of their lives and times, carving out the surrounding culture until these three women stand against it in stark relief.

From Library Journal

After the death of her mother, journalist and author Epstein (Joe Papp, LJ 4/15/94) decided to uncover her mother's past to learn more about her ancestors, who were victims of the Holocaust. After eight years of research throughout the United States, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Israel, Epstein brings us this account of Czechoslovak Jewry, chronicling the women in her family for three generations. Basing most of her research on a 12-page letter and an unpublished memoir written by her mother, Epstein traces her history by searching for information in archives and hunting down people who knew her family. Rich in detail, this work is told with a strong voice, and the result is a moving account of a family history and the strength of its women. Recommended for specialized collections, particularly those that focus on Jewish, Eastern European, Czech, and Holocaust studies.?Jill Jaracz, Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1st edition (November 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316246085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316246088
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,067,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Helen Epstein is the author of six books of literary non-fiction including the two memoirs Children of the Holocaust and Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for her Mother's History and the biography Joe Papp: An American Life. All three books were named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. She is also the translator from the Czech of Acting in Terezin by Vlasta Schonova and the late Heda Margolius Kovaly's classic memoir Under A Cruel Star: A LIfe in Prague 1941-1968. She and her husband are the founders of Plunkett Lake Press (www.plunkettlakepress.com).

Born in Prague in 1947, Helen grew up in New York City. She graduated from Hunter College High School in 1965, Hebrew University in 1970, and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1971. She then began freelancing for diverse publications including the Sunday New York Times. Her profiles of legendary musicians such as Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein and Yo-Yo Ma are collected in Music Talks.

She began teaching journalism at New York University in 1974 and became the first woman in the journalism department to be awarded tenure. In 1986, she left NYU to move to Massachusetts. She has lectured at universities in Europe and North and South America; health organizations; high schools; synagogues, libraries and churches; the United States Military Academy at West Point; the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the U.S. Holocaust Museum. She continues to write about the arts for the New England cultural website The Arts Fuse.

Photos show Helen with late author Heda Kovaly and son Sam, with her Czech researchers Jiri Rychetsky and Jiri Fiedler in 2001; speaking with Jean-Gaspard Palenicek at the Centre Tcheque in Paris; lecturing at SUNY Geneseo; at the El Ateneo bookstore in Buenos Aires; in Rome with her Italian editor Annalisa Cosentino and translator Elisa Renso; and at Freud's birthplace in Pribor, Czech Republic. To see a video interview of Helen, please cut and paste: http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/2007/02/05/uo-today-229-helen-epstein/

Customer Reviews

Very well written, and the detailed description of the search makes it a very readable book.
Milan Herben
Ms. Epstein's work skillfully combines two stories: that of her attempt to recover her mother's past and her mother's personal history.
Patricia A. Smith
I can't do anything less than award this superb work of history my highest rating of 5-stars.
Adam Daniel Mezei

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By ewoll@mediaone.net on March 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
We read Helen Epstein's "Where She Came From" for our book group, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The book has so many threads: Wonderful characters you wish you could meet in person; A view of the history of eastern Europe that is colorful and compelling; The chilling face of centuries of European anti-Semitism; Helen's personal story of discovery. It reads like a mystery at times and a love letter at others. The writing style is very clear and pleasant to read - the best of personal journalism. Having read the library's copy, I bought one of my own to share with my own family and friends.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By sethmor@aol.com on January 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Epstein achieves her goal of exploring her roots, but she accomplishes much more. She paints a fascinating, and very well researched portrait of life in Eastern Europe during the two generations before and during the Holocaust. The lives and times come alive for the reader. Most Holocaust literature focuses on the horrors of the period. Epstein concentrates on the people and their culture, and how the Holocaust effected the lives of her ancestors. It is a must read for anyone interested in this very challenging time in our history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
I was going to go to Prague (didn't make it, but that's another story) and a friend said to me, "I read this book *after* I went and I wish I'd read it *before*."
Well, as I said I didn't go to Prague, but I did read the book. It sucked me in and held me all the way through.
I not generally generally wild about literature that focuses on the Holocaust. But this book is really a lot more than that. It's part history, part detective story, part memoir. I found it gripping, engaging and moving.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Adam Daniel Mezei on September 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
In WHERE SHE CAME FROM, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based award-winning author Helen Epstein has penned a meticulously-researched memoir to the four generations of Czech and former Czechoslovak women in her extensive family, from her mother's side of the brood.

While today she associates her public persona to the proud and extensive line of former Czechoslovak Epsteins (see Ms. Epstein's fabulous Amazon Short available off of this site, SWIMMING AGAINST STEREOTYPE: The Story of a Twentieth Century Jewish Athlete), the writer stakes her claim to a noble and illustrious family line which once proudly sported famous Viennese and Prague-based surnames such as Rabinek, Solar, Weigert, Sachsel, Furcht, and Frucht.

Like an experienced batsman for a World Series-winning major-league baseball team, Epstein managed to hang in that old batter's box, waiting for just the right pitch to slug out of the ballpark. In the book world, the analogue was when all the right moments fortuitously transpired to assist Ms. Epstein in securing many essential clues of research which she utilized handily in crafting this excellent book's narrative. Even she'll tell you, the process was far from easy.

Thanks to a dedicated coterie of like-minded collaborators based in points all around the globe as you'll soon read (the former Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Israel, South America, and the United States), Ms. Epstein succeeded in cobbling together one of the most comprehensive Czech geneological histories on the public record.

The work is not only emotionally remunerative for Ms.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Milan Herben on December 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is not only a touching search for the author's roots. It is also a fascinating, well researched history of Jews in Central Europe. Very well written, and the detailed description of the search makes it a very readable book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have just finished Helen Epstein's Where She Came From and I am unable to move. She weaves three narratives: personal, historical and Holocaust. It is one of the best books I have read, ever. I am in awe of the writer's skills and gift. It is the kind of book that makes you think about it for days, the kind of book that makes you not want to read another for a while, and certainly not one that isn't of its caliber.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By msilverman@paulweiss.com on November 11, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Many Americans are curious about their roots but are frustrated that family history died with their ancestors. Helen Epstein has done what so many of us fantasize about: She went back to where she came from and learned her family history. The story of her discovery is fascinating, but not as fascinating as the history itself. She tells of three generations of women who moved from tradition to assimilation to conversion and then to Auschwitz. Perhaps the single most gripping image in the book is the woman in the concentration camp bunk above Ms. Epstein's mother regularly saying her Catholic prayers, although she was where she was because to the Nazis she was a Jew not a Catholic. Ms. Epstein writes simply and effectively. Her book is very readable and very moving.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
In a previous book, Helen Epstein wrote eloquently about the need of many children of holocost survivors to resurrect family history. In this compelling, finely crafted and painstakingly researched book, she describes her quest to document and understand the vanished world and histories of her great grandmother, grandmother and mother.
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