A debut memoir about “the ways the trauma of the Holocaust has reverberated through the generations of [the author’s] family.”
Frankel, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, focuses first on his maternal grandparents, who not only managed to survive the Nazi death camps, but also thrived, on the surface at least, after their arrival in the United States a few years after the end of World War II. They settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where they ran a jewelry store specializing in watch repair. As the author learned incremental details about their experiences, his respect and adoration for his grandparents only grew. The dominant character in the family chronicle, however, is Frankel’s mother, Ellen, a functional career woman but emotionally unstable individual. Ellen grew up understandably marked by the survival saga of her parents, and Frankel speculates about how being the devoted daughter of Holocaust survivors affected Ellen. “All of the drama, the volatility, hardly seemed Mom’s fault,” he writes. “She was, I knew, at the mercy of her emotions, subject to their fickle swings.” The author also looks inward to determine what his family’s experiences mean for him as a Jew growing up in a less perilous environment. For students of American politics and history, Frankel’s apprenticeship with John F. Kennedy confidant Ted Sorensen and later work for Obama provide welcome relief from the otherwise relentless emotional roller coaster. Frankel’s marriage and fatherhood add further poignancy to the narrative, and his well-delineated portraits of his cousins, aunts, uncles, and their extended families provide helpful context to the dramatic family saga. It’s a unique addition to the literature of personal accounts that keep the memory of the Holocaust alive at a time when it is “getting harder to teach young people about [it] because the most compelling instructors—survivors—are all passing away.”
An emotionally powerful multigenerational memoir.