Washington Post associate editor Steve Luxenberg is a master of investigative journalism. The editor of two Pulitzer prize winning series, Luxenberg has now written his most compelling story. His exploration of his late mother's secret.
Beth Luxenberg always claimed to be an only child, but a chance mention led to the discovery that she had been hiding the existence of a sister, Annie. The girls had grown up together, living in a series of cramped apartments until Annie's commitment to a mental instituion at the age of twenty-one. Why was Annie committed? How had Beth so thoroughly erased her sister's existence? Why had she wanted to?
Annie's Ghosts is the engrossing eye opening story of Luxenberg's search for the personal motives and cultural forces that influenced his mother's decision to create and harbor her secret. The deeper he digs. the more he finds himself in unfamiliar territory, struggling to balance his dual roles, the tenacious journalist and empathetic son.
The research and investigative work that Mr. Luxenberg did was well documented. You could tell that he was a investigative journalist by his writing style. I thought he did a good job in the research that was done.
He documented the family, friends, relatatives, neighbors that knew his family. He documented the history of psychiatry. in the hospital and in Europe. How the mentally ill were treated with psychotropic meds, insulin, shock treatment. The after effects of Haldol which can cause tardavdiskensia.
The history of mental hospitals, psychiatry, the treatment of patients, the overcrowding. The government's role in mental illness and hospitals. The governments funding in the US. Social culture in the US during the 40's. He summized what life was like for the family under normal conditions. What life was like to have a child with a physical disability and mental illness. How this effected the whole family. His family, his grandparents, his mother.
The research and investigative work was well researched. He did the work objectively. Which was a hard thing to do. Since this was a personal matter, his mother, Beth and Aunt Annie. How do you do investigative work objectively.
The story of the secret his mother, Beth kept from the family till she died. The family lived in Detroit, Michigan during the 30's and 40's. Beth's sister was severely handicapped with mental illness. She was sent away from the home in her early twenties.
Steve's grandmother, Tillie felt that the sins of the parents are passed on to the children. Because Tilly his grandmother and Zeyde married as cousins. In the old country in Europe in the Jewish faith you can marry a cousin to keep everything in the family.
Steve's investigative work also brought us to Europe. In Russia, with the Pograms, the holocaust, mass murders. How families in Europe felt about mental illness and physically handicapped family members. They felt it was right to keep secrets.
During the 40's families felt it was a disgrace to have a family member with a mental illness and a physical handicap. It left you with a stigma and the family felt disgraced in the 1940's. If you expected to marry you did not let anyone know you kept it in the family.
The account of the family takes place, while he's mother is still alive. While she is being hospitalized she tells the social worker the secret. He wonders, why did she wait to tell the secret then. Why not before. What a shock this had to be for him and his family. The brothers and sisters all thought she was a only child.
During the investigation of the early accounts when Annie's is committed to Eloise(the name of the mental institution). He questions her IQ, her mental state, her emotional state. Was she severely mentally ill or was this just a place to put her. Was she schizophrenic? or was this what they labeled everyone.
In the 40's Schizophrenia was a catch-all. Not like today when they distinguish the different mental illnesses. The documents that he finds challanges the reason she was put in Eloise in the first place. He finds documents that states she can care for herself. And can function very well.
At the end of Annie's life she died in 1972. She died alone in her early 50's. She died before the government opened the doors for good. She was buried with a Jewish burial by his mother. She wrote Annie's orbituary that was fabricated. The author questions why did his mother finally recognize her in death but not while she was alive.
Was this a cartharsis for the author? Did he write this to help others that had family secrets? Did he want to understand why the secret was kept? While I was reading the book I wanted to know answers. But there weren't any because Steve' did not know the answers because he's mother kept him in the dark. There weren't any leaads to the questions because his mother and her generation passed away. There were some relatives, neighbors and friends that were still alive. But their memories were fading.
I have mixed feeling about Annie's Ghosts. What I am wondering where are the motivations for each action. Where are the feelings to their actions. How and why did this happen. It is hard for me to relate because there isn't any emotions sprinkled on the pages of the book, only the authors. You can see he took great care to preserve his mother's memory. To protect his mother, and his brothers, and sisters.
I wanted to know the mother and sister's and parents side. How was Annie raised by her parents?? how did Beth actually feel about her? Did she ever feel anything for Annie? Did her parents keep the secret from everyone as well?? The holes were never filled. How it affected them. All the questions he had were never answered, WHY??!!
That is probably why I did not understand why this book was written. With so many unanswered questions. I could not relate to most of the book.
There is a saying you don't judge someone because we have not walked in their shoes. But still I was angry with Bertha. To not have any compassion and not care what happens to her sister. To not care about her welfare and well being really makes her out as a heartless human being.
We will never know if she did or didn't because his mother never told him about his Aunt. She is no longer hear to defend herself.
Annie's Ghost has a good history lesson of the mentally ill, and psyciatry, and what society thought of the mentally ill. If you have no idea what psyciatry was like during that time.
I did enjoy reading this book. The book was well documented, and lot of work, sweat and caring, and investigative work was involved. The book was very compelling. It could help someone that is trying to research family and what happens to a family when there are secrets. I am still glad that I picked up this book and read it. Thank you, Jill, FSB for allowing me to review.
Our Rosh Hodesh "Girlfriends group meet once a month. This month June 18th. This is a Jewish women's group that meet once a month in honor of the new moon. This day we decided to meet for a day time event. We went to Charleston.
Charleston, you say. That is not Jewish. Well, guess what?? you are wrong. There is a lot of Jewish history in this town of Charleston SC. If you don't believe me you should do a google search. You will find alot of history on the Sephardic Jews ( Spainish).
Our town, Myrtle Beach has a Chabad community as well as conservative and reform. Our RH group is not insular we welcome anyone that is Jewish. Most of us are conservative and reform or secular. We only have two women that are orthodox. This is the overall character of our group.
Chani, is the Chabad rabbi's wife is a very welcoming person. She is not trying to make all of us orthodox because all of us are over 50. She is just a nice person. The group every month does tefillin(prayer), then some learning(jewish learning) followed by a fun project it can be anything.
Chani drove us in a van with 10 of us to Charleston. Took about 2 hrs. Can you imagine a ride with all women for two hours riding in a van. EAR SPLITTING. I have not seen some of these ladies for 6 months because of work and school. It was nice to see them. The ladies some belong to my temple, or to our Hadassah group, Jewish Myrtle Beach, etc.
We started a day with getting a guided tour on our van. G-d must have been with us. We were very lucky. We did not have to walk. We had a air conditioned van. We had a Jewish guide. This was just great. The whole day we only took a few steps the rest of the time we were in the van. The temperture was great.
We started with the Jewish Cemetary in Charleston. The cemetary was a gated wall. The cemetary was in poor condition which is very sad. The head stones were broken, and thrown every each way. The head stones were damaged recently.
I personally was very surprised how poorly kept the cemetary was kept. I have a friend, she is a member of Temple Beth Elohim, a poor small Jewish community. Their cemetary is well groomed.
There is not a large Jewish community in Georgetown. But in Charleston Jewish society there is a large community.
Next the homes are beautiful. Some of the homes are owned by Jews other are not. I did not hear much about anti-semitism in Charleston as our guide we talking to us about Charleston.
One of the homes was the inspiration of Gone With The Wind. She showed us the significance of Rhett Butler and the author. Which I can't remember what she said. The high class homes face a certain direction for good ventilation.
We came to the harbor how beautiful was the sea breeze and across the street was the high society homes. Unfortunately I am posting this about 3 weeks later so some of the information is a vague maemory.
Next, we had lunch, at Broad Street Guest House in Charleston. The only kosher eatery and guest house in town. It is run by Hadassah Rothenberg. She never opens it up for only a meal. But she did this time. She told us, no one ever asked her, why not. We had lunch and a tour. We had soup, salad, vegetarian wraps, and a old-fashioned apple pie to die for.
Our next stop was the synagouge, Temple Beth Elohim, a sephardic(Spainish) a Orthodox temple became a reform in the middle 1800's. It was a orthodox shul that became reform in the middle 1800's.
View the picture in the above post of Temple Beth Elohim of the richness and vastness of the shul. We toured the temple, in the main sanctuary, of course the Bimah front and center where the torah is kept(holy books), large stain glass windows(Jewish themed), a balcony and a organ.
Music is not allowed in orthodox or conservative because music is not played during the sabbath. The balcony was built to separate the women and children from the men.
This is very different from how I was raised. The culture from Jews from the north is different from Jews in the south. I was raised in a some what secular home but I was raised from a traditional back ground. I came from the north where shul did not look like a church. The shuls had chairs, not long benches.
We then walked along Market street and then went home. I had a very enlightened historic adventure of Jewish Charleston. If anybody has never been to see the Jewish south this would be a good learning experience especially to you that did not realize there was a large population of Jews in the south.
I will be posting the picture of Temple Beth Elohim on the above post.
This has been questioned so many times by Jews. Readers, rabbi's, scholars etc. No one seems to have the answer.
The reason I bring this up. This past year, a book called, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter, written by a non-jewish author. He worked at National Yiddish Book Center.
I can't make a opinion about the book since I have not read it. But I have read several books that have Jewish content, or author's are Jewish but not any Jewish content. I personally have not read anything from a author that is not Jewish.
Can a non-Jewish person write his or her experiences in a Jewish story. I am not sure. They do not have the experiences or feel what we as Jews feel. That is just my opinion. I have not heard the other way around that a Jewish author writes a story about the experiences of being Christian.
When the author writes a book that is Jewish I can identify with the story because I am Jewish. The characters, the situation etc. When the story is written by a Jewish author there isn't anything between the lines that you can relate to if you are Jewish to make it Jewish. To me to make a book Jewish is the content. That is only my opinion.
I am very interested to see what others think of Song of the Butcher's Daughter.
One of my fellow bloggers just mentioned the book on her blog that is why I brought it up. I want to see what she has to say about it.
I appreciate other commenter to post their thoughts on this opinions. Readers and scholars alike. What do you think??
I will be blogging about Jewish books, mainly fiction. I will have book reviews, book news, and Jewish news that promotes the Jewish authors. And of course any happenings in Temple Emanu-El of Myrtle Beach. If you are looking for a temple in Myrtle Beach. Visit Temple Emanu-El, a conservative temple at http://www.mbsynagogue.org/ We are a warm and friendly shul. Our spiritual leader, Rabbi Avi our and his wife Mira are friendly and kind, friendly and very sympathetic to each of our members. We are a small shul but that only adds to our uniqueness and our shuls warmth. If you are ever in the Myrtle Beach area come, and stop for a visit.
If you are looking for info. on the secular side of books you can visit my other blog, http://susansliterarycafe.blogspot.com. You are welcome to leave a comment. And thanks for stopping by.