Friday, October 2, 2009

a review of "Bending Toward the Sun"..and A Giveaway.

Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir by By Leslie Gilbert-Lurie with Rita Lurie
(Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0061734762

In a way, this book contains two different stories, two different, interrelated stories. The first is the story of Rita, who was just 5 years old in Poland in 1942, when her family was driven from their home, to spend the next two years hiding in a neighbor's attic. The second is the story of the how her trauma has affected the generations that have come after her, her children and even her grandchildren.

The first third or so of the book is Rita's recount of her early years and a remarkable story it is. For two years, almost to the day, she and 14 other members of her extended family hid in a small attic, with barely enough food to keep them alive, constantly in fear that someone would turn them into the Nazis. They watched as other members of their family were shot in the farm yard, and they watched as Rita's baby brother and then her mother died in front of their eyes. But even when the war came to an end, the trauma was not over. For another 5 years, her family wandered through Europe, from displaced person camp to displaced person camp, finally ending up in Italy, waiting and hoping to get visas to come to the United States. Medical issues, no doubt related to her confinement and malnutrition, plagued young Rita and fractures in the once close family began to appear. Her father remarried a woman he met in the DP camp, herself a survivor of Auschwitz, a stepmother Rita always has had a bad relationship with. Then they come to the US, first NYC, then Chicago, and ultimately for Rita, California, where the young woman, now married to Frank Laurie, raised her own family..and deals to this day with her own demons, including, at times, crippling depression.

The second part of the story is that told by her daughter Leslie and explores the legacy of her mother's experience on herself and her siblings and on the next generation, Rita's grandchildren. As Leslie writes about herself and her own daughter Mikaela,
"I learned that as a result of trauma passing from one generation to the next, it was not unusual to find children of Holocaust survivors, or the "Second Generation," as we came to be known, weighed down by feelings of loss, guilt, and anxiety, and trapped in a dynamic of mutual devotion and overprotection between parent and child...There was something particularly resilient about the strain of fear Mikaela seemed to have inherited...Like me, Mikaela, too, seemed to be trapped in the vortex of a tragedy that had taken place a half century before she was born."
I am sorry to say I did not find this part of the book as interesting as the first or convincing in it's ideas about the affects of trauma on the next generation. And it is an argument that takes up a large part of the book. Certainly Rita, like many parents, have had to cope with horrible childhood experiences and without question, what has formed a parent, for good and bad, is passed on to the next generation in some ways. Simply from a biological point of view though, Rita has suffered from severe depression her whole life, but I am not sure there is a connection to her childhood experiences since it seems her father and perhaps the generation before also suffered the same issue.
But most of all, I am afraid that emphasis may paint a not positive enough picture of what Rita has been able to accomplish. Coming from a terrible childhood, a childhood with lingering effects and without a well adjusted home life to draw on as an example, she and her husband Frank (an unsung hero of this family I would have like to know more about maybe) were able to establish what seems like a very good marriage, a marriage strong enough to deal with some real problems over the years. And they were able to raise three very accomplished, very successful and pretty well adjusted children. Rita is a beautiful, accomplished woman in her own right that has had nightmares to deal with, but she seems to have done a great job doing it.

For me, that was the real message of this book. Not so much what is the lingering effect of horrible experiences, but rather how a strong woman can overcome so much. As the title of the book say and as Leslie says about her mother,
"This book was written with the hope that children and grandchildren of trauma survivors—as well as others facing their own challenges—might find inspiration in my mother's courageous story...The fire of hate that the Nazis lit did not consume everything. The earth was scorched, but from the blackened ground new seeds sprouted. Their genes had been affected by the intensity of the heat, but grow they did, and thrive they would, as my mother would put it, "bending toward the sun." It is evidence that despite the depth of pain and horror we may experience, the will of the human spirit is irrepressible, and the blessing of life, of a new day in the sun, will ultimately prevail."
For those who are interested in reading about the Holocaust, the aftermath in Europe after WWII and an interesting story about a family dynamic, "Bending Toward the Sun" is a book that I think you will want to put on your 'to be read' list.

And in order to help one lucky reader do that, I am going to offer my very, very gently read hard cover copy in a giveaway. Just say you are interested, in a comment, and leave your e-mail info so I can get in touch with you to find where to send it. The contest will run a week and the winner will be chosen the evening of Saturday 10/10. I would hope that the winner will pass on their own opinion of the book in their own review.

My thanks to Julie at FSB Associates for this copy.


  1. After just finishing The Glass Castle, I think there are many people that despite their upbringing, or their parents upbringing, they survive and succeed. No excuses or pointing fingers or copouts. Still, Caite, you probably know how I feel about WWII books, especially ones that take place in Poland. I can't stop myself from needing this book! rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com

  2. This books sounds like a real interesting read! I would love a copy! Thanks for the opportunity.

    dcf_beth at verizon dot net

  3. Would you please enter me Caite. This looks so great:

    bibliophilebythesea AT gmail DOT com

  4. I just don't know how people ever recover from something as awful as the Holocaust and imagine they do pass fears, etc on to their children. I'd like to be entered for the giveaway. milou2ster(at)

  5. enter me please!

    this books sounds intriguing.

    haleymathiot at yahoo dot com

  6. An interesting idea that the traumas of a mother could cause trauma for the children.

    I don't think I want to read this actually but I liked your review. No need to enter me though.

  7. Do enter me! Thanks

    lone_hammy AT yahoo dot com dot sg

  8. I definitely believe that trauma can be "passed" from mother to daughter.
    Sounds like an excellent book.
    pippirose59 at gmail dot com

  9. This sounds like a great book, please enter me in your drawing. thanks

    ejxd95 at gmail dot com

  10. No need to enter me; just a note that I've posted about this at Winning Readings:

  11. It sounds interesting to me. Please enter me in the drawing.


  12. I so enjoy books like these. Please enter me for a chance.

    kdhaney (AT) gmail (DOT) com

  13. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the chance to win!
    ruthann (dot) francis (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. I am very interested in reading this book and would gladly give
    a review.
    I am a follower.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  15. I think we pass things like trauma for generations not just to our children only. I would love to be given the opportunity to read this book.


  16. I am very interested in reading books about WWII and the Holocaust. Please enter me in this great giveaway. Thanks!

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah Emmerson

  17. Thanks for this wonderful giveaway. I have been reading about this book recently and am captivated with it. I have read many Holocaust memoirs and novels and they always are profound and enthralling. Many children are affected by their parents' experiences during this traumatic experience. Some parents hide it and never mention this part of their lives. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  18. I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks. wandanamgreb(at)gmail(dot)com

  19. Please enter me and thanks for the reminder.

    tbranco(at)hughes dot net

  20. I'd love to be entered in this giveaway if I'm not too late. I am always amazed by stories of people (real or fictitious) who survive a trauma like Rita's and the lasting impression it makes on them and how that trauma can color future relationships and generations.

    You wrote a wonderful review and thank you for hosting this giveaway!

  21. I would love to be entered, this sounds like a very interesting book. Thanks for the chance.

    By the way, how are things in NJ?

  22. THis is my favorite kind of read, real life experiences that have become a part of a families history and success in living. I would love to read it! And a gently read book is a loved book the best kind of all! Thank you for entering me.

  23. I would absolutely love to read this book. I thank you for the possibility and the giveaway.


  24. I am a second generation survivor of two holocaust survivors. The trauma that has been passed on to me from my parents began in utero. I carry the pain of a life that I did not live. There are so many parallels in my life and that of the book. Two parents struggling and looking as if they are successful in life, raising four children who appear successful in life. All is not as it appears. We are whole human beings with much that is not seen, but rather carried in very dark places within. Only upon exploration can these broken places within serve us as a blessing that is unique to us alone. I applaud this mother and daughter in their desire to bring light to the darkness.


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