Family History of Fear: A Memoir

Agata Tuszyanska. Knopf, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-375-41370-4
Tuszyanska, a poet who grew up in Poland in the years after Hitler decimated its Jews, wrote this bleak memoir after she learned, at age 19, that she is half Jewish. Her Jewish mother was determined to hide her identity because she believed silence was safer: “You never knew when they would come after you again.” Learning all this startles Tuszyanska into a quest to discover every family member’s history, and her reporting ends up producing too much detail about too many characters. At times, her narrative has the feel of someone else’s grandmother telling you what each of the long-dead people in her black-and-white photo collection ate for breakfast. But at her best, when Tuszyanska is describing life under Hitler and her search to find the people who knew her family, she writes horror with great power in spare prose: a synagogue burns, a two-year-old Christian child is killed and Jews are accused of the murder, and a man saves her mother and grandmother from anti-Semitic bullies and then delivers them to the Gestapo. Under the piles of research, a patient and determined reader will find a tragic story about a woman’s search for identity. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 05/17/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-385-72196-7
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