"A very well-documented account of a woman’s search for her missing husband."– Kirkus Reviews
Letters and other documents from the author’s family history tell the story of the search for her grandfather, gone missing in a World War I battle.
In Lina’s Love: Postcards and Poems from Hugo (2014), Rosenthal published hundreds of postcards and handwritten poems exchanged between her German grandparents Hugo and Lina before their marriage. In this new book, Rosenthal presents her recent find—a shopping bag full of letters, postcards, telegrams and other documents, most dated 1914 or 1915, nearly all related to learning the fate of Hugo after his injury in a 1914 battle. Rosenthal again provides English translations with German transcriptions and reproductions of the originals. The correspondence is addressed to or from military offices, the Red Cross, consulates, etc., across the Eurasian continent: from Madrid in the west to Ussuriysk in far eastern Russia; from Stockholm to Tashkent. The struggle to extract even a scrap of information from the fog of war is long and hard-fought, taking on the suspense of a mystery, with resolution withheld until the end. As Rosenthal notes in some thoughtful comments, one theme that reveals itself is Lina’s poor treatment by her family. She’s constantly being scolded for worrying (even as she diligently seeks out information) and blamed for illness: “Seek to uplift yourself, my child, all physical pain is the product of your mental suffering,” writes her mother. Lina, like Rosenthal herself, “clashed with her patriarchal relatives.” Historians will find much to interest them in this cache of primary sources, such as how quickly initial homefront optimism about the war’s course turns into accounts of privation, shortages and sad sights of young men with missing limbs. In some places, Rosenthal could provide more extensive explanations. For example, Hugo writes, “The torch of war has set all of Europe aflame and brought on the transvaluation of all values”; it would be valuable to know that the latter phrase is a concept from Nietzsche (elaborated in The Antichrist) and a sign of Hugo’s education, values and outlook.
A moving and very well-documented account of a woman’s search for her missing husband.
Rosenthal’s memoir recounts her restless travels and how she came to understand her family’s burden of historical trauma.
In two previous books, Lina’s Love: Postcards and Poems from Hugo and Searching for Hugo (both 2014), Rosenthal investigated her paternal grandparents’ courtship and marriage. Now she tells her own story. Born in Palestine in 1947, Rosenthal and her older brother grew up in harsh surroundings: desert heat, poor food and housing, mean kids, and critical parents. In 1957, the family moved to the United States, where Rosenthal excelled in school but had few friends. She won a full college scholarship to SUNY Stony Brook, but her parents saw it as selfishness. When she chose a different summer job over working at the family’s Dairy Queen franchise, “my mother said I was no longer her daughter.” After graduating, Rosenthal traveled to Berkeley, Europe, Africa, and India, finally returning to Berkeley; she fell in love with dance, was healed by yoga, had a baby, and pursued further education. Though often financially stressed, she inched her way upward, her progress captured in one chapter title: “From Welfare Mom to Molecular Biologist.” Rosenthal tells her story well, with many colorful descriptions of culture, people, foods, and scenery. Illuminating anecdotes and deft character sketches bring her subjects alive. In Amsterdam, she met Mitsutaka Ishi, an “impenetrable” Japanese dancer and teacher who “would say things like, ‘When you lift your arm, you must give birth to a universe under your armpit.’ ” The book offers interest as a historical travel narrative as well as autobiography. For example, she writes about South Africa under apartheid: “…we realized that these people were not cruel, or stupid….they were insane.” While hitchhiking, they always got a ride and were often invited in: “We would be served a fine dinner by a barefoot houseboy in rags, while our hosts discussed the inferiority of the African people.” Though still pained by childhood episodes, Rosenthal fairly weighs her parents’ harsh treatment against their fears and weaknesses, and her final assessment of her life—quiet contentment—seems well-earned.
An ultimately hopeful journey through hardship.