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The Woman in the Photograph: The Search for My Mother's Past Paperback – March 2, 2016
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If you avoid books about the Holocaust because they are so inexpressibly sad, I can only tell you that I'm glad I didn't pass on this one. It IS about the Holocaust and its lingering effects on the survivors, but it's also an intelligent, sensitive look at families and relationships, past and present. The sisters in the picture had a complicated relationship, as do Ms. Feniger and her brother. Her mother was scarred, not only by her experiences in Nazi Germany, but by her childhood with a passive mother and an abusive father. Mani and her mother were ultimately able to forge a strong, loving relationship, but family secrets always stood between them. As a relative says, "Everything has been buried so long...."
A recurring theme is the innate (we must suppose) personality or character that enables one person to survive a horrible experience emotionally intact while another is crushed and embittered. What gives a person the confidence and resilience to go through hell and remain loving and open and optimistic? Is it instilled by parenting or is it embedded in our DNA?
It's sometimes said of a book that it raises more questions than it answers, but there are some questions for which there ARE no answers. I think that this author has used the difficulties in her life to develop a deep understanding of human nature. This book makes you THINK and that's the highest compliment I can pay.
If you choose to read The Woman in the Photograph by Mani Feniger, be certain a box of tissues sits close by as they'll be needed. My tears came for mixed reasons--sadness and joy--as Feniger searches for a story that will explain the silences in her childhood and young adulthood as well as a story capable of healing deep wounds and scars.
It did not matter that the Holocaust impacted the lives of six million Jews, an underlying theme in Feniger's book, for even those able to escape like the author's parents and an aunt and uncle were stripped of their personal property and saddest of all their identities. As a result, their children received the ironic gift of fear and often denial. Years of research, digging through photos, and much more would be needed to establish a sense of trust in others.
Cleverly crafted by Feniger, The Woman in the Photograph, is a true story and yet reads as a novel would read. Filled with suspense and tension, the reader at times feels the sense of a mystery or thriller. Yet, Feniger's prose is so poetic as to draw the reader into a sense of passion and fervor.
Most touching to this reader was Feniger's commitment to stop the filtration of these negative emotions to the next generation. In order to do this, she must find forgiveness within her heart for the atrocities committed not only to her family but also unknown millions.
Although this book starts somewhat slowly, I found myself being quickly drawn into reader-character relationships I had not expected. I enjoy reading about the history of World War II and despite its horrors, I find reading about those who survived the Holocaust and even those who did not to be a source of great faith in the generations gone before us. I highly recommend this book to any reader who is a history buff and would enjoy an up close read of a true story of a woman searching for the truth.
It is an interesting read, though not quite as riveting as some of the other reviews I have read about it. The fact that the author is Jewish, and that her family suffered during the Nazi regime in Germany, really does not become the focus of the narrative as much as one might suspect prior to reading. Her story is more of a self edification, self discovery-type of journey that anyone could relate to, and learn from.
The keystone is, of course, the particular photograph that she gets from her brother's stash of their Mother's belongings. This photo is of an affluent young lady, and her sister, taken during the early years of the Nazi administration around the election of Hitler to the Chancellor's post. The persecution had not begun in earnest yet, and the demeanor of the two sisters in the picture clearly reflects this, thus the author's interest/curiosity is profoundly piqued. Her quest for true understanding of just who her Mother really was BEFORE the Nazi immorality crushed her family, begins!
The setting of the writing mostly stays in the present tense with little extended in-depth, detailed "memories" of individuals who actually lived through the horrors. This book is about the author's unique journey into the past of her family. I read the entire book though I prefer the "memories" type of narratives with the storyline primarily set during the 1930's, and 1940's.
A different type of approach, exceptionally well written with good editorial influence that is unlike any other book of related subject matter that I have personally encountered so far.