Review in a word: Yawn…
Opening line: “I did my first writing—I mean writing that understood itself to be writing—when I was ten years old.”
When she is ten years old, Lore Segal is sent to England with a bunch of other Jewish Viennese children as an experiment: will the Nazis find them and stop them? They do make it safely through Germany and to England—and then the war moves to the periphery of the story. Apparently, Lore Segal has said that she didn’t want to write “another WWII book.” Well, if it’s possible to not write a WWII book as a WWII refugee, she did it.
Anyway, once in England Lore is moved from English house to English house, living with well meaning people who really aren’t sure what to do with her. When Lore’s parents are able to join her in England, her mother works as a cook and maid while her father works as a gardener until his health deteriorates so much that he can’t work. Lore watches as her mother, a talented pianist who attended a prestigious conservatory in Vienna, works multiple jobs and nurses her father through two strokes and a myriad of other illnesses. Lore’s bitterness against her father is intense, and she is perpetually frustrated with her mother’s inability to say no to people.
Finally, Lore’s father dies and Lore goes to an all women’s college in London. After that, she and her mother go to the Dominican Republic, where Lore’s uncle and grandparents had gone as refugees. Lore teaches English to many wealthy Dominicans. Then they all move to New York, Lore dates a few guys, fights with her grandmother, works a few jobs and gets fired multiple times. Then her grandmother dies and she gets married. The end.
Eh… I feel bad saying I didn’t like it, but that’s the truth. I had a hard time sympathizing with Lore, who was contentious and sometimes just plain mean. On top of that, the story meandered and jumped time in a weird way. She glossed completely over her time in college (which I was looking forward to hearing about!) and spent way too much time talking about her uncle’s job in the Dominican Republic. In the last two paragraphs of the book, we learn that her grandmother dies and she gets married to someone. Talk about abrupt.
I did enjoy Lore’s mother, Franzi, who is described as always having a good sense of humor and cheering everyone else up, despite being exhausted herself. Although she goes from being a dignified pianist in Vienna to a maid in England, her mother subtly revolts against the English who look down on her. She is able to maintain her dignity, and also succeeds in keeping up Lore’s father’s spirits. She seemed like a wonderful woman.
My father, who had originated the accounting system of the bank for which he worked, learned machine knitting and leatherwork. The sad little purses and wallets he made turned up in our luggage for years. My mother learned large-quantity cooking. (31)
They asked my name and I told them. They said I spoke English very nicely. I beamed. They asked me if I was Orthodox. I said yes. They were pleased… I finished my letter to my parents, saying that I was going to live with this lovely Orthodox family in Liverpool and would they please write and tell me what did “Orthodox” mean. (51-52)
I remember their backs moving off down the road together—the large, heavy, stooping person of my father propelled by my small, plump mother, who had given him her arm and seemed at once to be holding him up and looking lovingly around into his face as if she were holding onto him. (92)
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