In this carefully researched portrait of uncelebrated government lawyer Tamara Wall, who died of cancer at the age of 47, Washington Post reporter Barringer illuminates the coping mechanisms of persons who carry within them hideous childhood memories. Admired by those who loved her, ""nothing special"" to others, Tamara created for herself ""the myth of the ordinary striver. For her normality was a victory."" In 1939, Russian-born Boris Jaffe arrived in the United States, leaving his wife Ida and his children--Sasha, Tamara, Jascha--behind in Berlin. Two years later, when Tamara was nine, Ida and the children were ""exchanged"" to Siberia via Istanbul. (A yellowing letter from Ida attested to the miseries of the transport.) In the Siberian camp, it was so cold that window frames were torn out for fuel. The children were sent out to beg, and Tamara are potato peelings from garbage cans. She watched her mother die, legs amputated because of frostbite. (She herself lost eight toes.) Sasha died, and so did Jascha--""because nobody took care of him,"" reported Tamara's savior Millie Lifschutz. (In 1962, Tamara would write from the Queen Mary ""I had the most delicious fresh caviar appetizer. . . ."") Barringer records Boris' anxious, step-by-step efforts to reclaim his daughter, and their eventual reunion--after which Tamara would drop Millie Lifschutz as she would excise her childhood. She follows Tamara through college and law school; a diligent but undistinguished Washington career; a brutal marriage; the anguished realization that her only child was retarded; and many friends and lovers (including Eric Sevareid and other famous names). Before her death she visited surviving family members in Israel--and for the first time was able to talk about her childhood at length. The image coheres of Tamara as someone with a ""disturbing blend of purpose and aimlessness, wayward merriment and hidden need."" She is neither completely appealing nor memorable, her sorrow and her need--and that of others like her--stay hauntingly in mind.