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Choices, Secrets and Memories,
This review is from: Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret (Hardcover)
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At what point do you stop controlling a secret and find that it is controlling you? That's one of the questions at the heart of Steve Luxenberg's utterly compelling first book, "Annie's Ghosts" Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret. Part memoir, part biography and part investigative reporting, this book humanizes a subject that probably touches more of us than we might realize.
Luxenberg's journey begins as a son's quest to learn why his mother turned her sibling from younger sister to lifelong secret and expands to become an exploration of a particularly moving era in recent American history.
Several months after Luxenberg's mom died, the cemetery where her parents were buried sent the family a letter containing a simple question that was to lead Luxenberg and his siblings on a journey through their family's past. "Spring was around the corner," Luxenberg writes, "and the cemetery was offering to plant flowers on the grave sites." The solicitation wasn't for two sites, however, but for three. Suddenly, this whisper of a woman had a name, Annie. Her burial certificate answered some questions, but led to others that took Luxenberg deep into the dynamics of his own family as well as the evolving nature of health care in the United States during several key decades of the 20th century.
He soon found himself part of a wave of thousands of family members seeking information about relatives who'd been institutionalized--relatives they'd never known they had. "I couldn't write about all the `forgotten people,' but I could write about one," Luxenberg writes of his decision to ferret out Annie's tale.
Steve Luxenberg is a veteran newspaperman, and his journalistic instincts and contacts definitely helped him develop questions and efficiently seek answers. However, he's also a son and a brother, and the decision to step outside the bounds of impartial reporter to involved memoirist and family historian cannot have been easy. His love for his mom and his family illuminates every chapter, even as he struggles with why his mom--who lived by the rule of honesty--chose to keep such a key element of her life a secret.
In the end, drawing on primary and secondary sources, and leavening these facts with his knowledge of his mom, he finds answers. Too late, as he notes in his dedication, for his mom and Annie ... but perhaps not for the other 5,000 whose families may still have time to reconnect.
I read this book twice. The first time, for the tale of Annie and the Luxenbergs; the second, for the larger historical picture. As I've written and rewritten this review, I've struggled with how to describe this book without spoiling the intensely personal journey it conveys. So I'll have to leave it at this. If you've ever loved or been loved, this book will hit you in the gut.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 20, 2009, 5:05:51 PM PDT
Lizzie B says:
I will put this book in my wishlist, it sounds right up my alley. Thank you for the review, you walked the fine line perfectly, enough to intrigue without spoiling the book for me.
Posted on Aug 19, 2009, 3:29:12 AM PDT
Charles M. Wyzanski says:
I just wrote a review of Annie's Ghosts and then decided to look at others. Yours puts me to shame and had I read it first, I wouldn't have bbothered to add my two cents--except to say that, yes, this is a book to treasure and learn from.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2009, 2:18:08 PM PDT
Thank you for your kind words. They humble me. This review was the most difficult I've ever written, because I wanted to do the book some small measure of justice and wasn't sure I'd succeeded.
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