This book is author Suzanne Berne's search for her paternal grandmother who died in 1932 and left a void in her family's personal history that was never filled and never completely understood.
Ironically, Berne's grandmother Lucile Kroger Berne was not exactly a typical wife and mother by circumstance or inclination. The third child of Bernard Kroger, a self-made supermarket magnate who founded in the late 19th century what would become the Kroger Grocery chain, Lucile was essentially a child of great privilege. The first family member to graduate college, Lucile had a sharp mind for business and during the period of WWI served as the treasurer of her father's company when her brothers were off serving in the military. She was an aid worker in Europe as the war wound down and an early feminist who participated in the causes of early 20th century women. She was also a seemingly depressed wife and housewife who found little happiness in her marriage and home. It was Berne's quest to find all of this out about her grandmother and debunk the myths and misconceptions that had been handed down through family lore in remote bits and pieces.
On the face of it, the facts concerning Berne's grandmother are not necessarily explosive or riddled with scandal or intrigue though they certainly are interesting. However, what really appealed to me was the combination of discovery and greater understanding that occurred between Berne and her sometimes estranged father/Lucile's son, who was essentially a lost child for most of his life and had a very real disconnect with his own family as he appeared and then disappeared out of the lives of his children. Berne's quest was fascinating. With very little to go on, it was surprising how much Berne was able to learn about a woman who had been dead for nearly 80 years.
When I finished this book, I was relieved that Lucile was no longer lost to wishful thinking and incomplete memories of family members but I was also saddened by a life that was taken far too early.
This book proved to be an interesting window into a family of wealth during the early 20th century as well as a tale of how death can affect a family like unending ripples on water.
This is a terrific memoir of a family affected by death.
on December 2, 2010
Suzanne Berne is a truly gifted novelist. Her previous three books I have immensely enjoyed. I appreciated the personal slant to this novel. I read this book extremely quickly and found the story of finding a deeper understanding of yourself through an exploration of family history important, poignant, and deeply relevant to any reader. Readers get to be present for Berne's creation of her personal narrative through her exploration of her family history through remembered family vignettes and found documents-- a touching and moving process to be able to witness. Made me think a lot about my own family in the process.
Highly recommend this to any reader.
on November 30, 2013
I had higher hopes for this book, given the synopsis and intriguing concept, to research/reconstruct the life of a relative personally unknown to the author. While there were glimpses of interesting discoveries, ultimately the book seemed empty of reality, instead filled, in a somewhat tedious and annoying way, by speculations of the author, calling into question, "What/whose memories are we talking about here?" Those who would not be as bothered by her style might enjoy the book more than I.
on June 24, 2014
I do not usually enjoy biographies because even the life of a famous person can be pretty dull most of the time. However, this book is written like a mystery, with the author searching for facts about a life that is largely unknown and, at the point she makes the attempt, largely unknowable. The connecting of the dots makes for fascinating reading. The author was particularly skillful in the way she focused on certain details, emphasizing things in the way a medium might in what she finds in the dregs of her emptied cup of tea. Also, I enjoyed how the author painted not only a picture of her lost grandmother, but of the hours she had once walked (giving the reader a sense of place and time as well as personal history). Great book! Well worth reading! Certainly the most interesting biography that I've ever read.