Eleanor's Rebellion: A Mother, Her Son, and Her Secret

David Siff, Author
David Siff, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-40175-6
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For the first year and a half of his life, Siff lived in an orphanage. He had been temporarily placed there in secret by his unwed mother, Eleanor, who was unwilling to give him up for adoption, but was also reluctant to reveal her predicament to her father, unwittingly setting into motion the lifetime of well-meaning lies that gave rise to Siff's memoir. A restless, independent-minded young woman, Eleanor had been expelled from her Bronx high school for forging a letter excusing her from gym class, and began hanging out in Greenwich Village in the early 1930's. There she met like-minded rebels, pursued her interest in socialist politics and theater, had a brief affair with an actor and got pregnant. Aided by a cousin, she concocted a lie and left home before she started to show. After giving birth, she returned home and began a campaign to convince her family to take in her son as a foster child, which they did, before she eventually revealed the deception to her father, who never forgave her or his wife for their betrayal. Brought up as the oldest of three children of his mother and her eventual husband, Benjamin, whom she married when David was a toddler, Siff began to get wind of his history only at age 40, when he procured a copy of his birth certificate to cast a horoscope. Driven by turbulent feelings of despair and rage at his mother's betrayal and lies, Siff's narrative bravely grasps the truth. Looking back at the effects of the conspiracy of silence on all the family members, Siff powerfully bears witness to the price that had to be paid for maintaining the secret of his birth. Photos. (Aug.)
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