MOTHERLAND by Fern Schumer Chapman


A Daughter's Journey to Reclaim the Past
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An engaging memoir by the daughter of a Holocaust escapee who returns to Germany with her mother to revisit the scene

of the crime.

Chapman (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.) was on the staff of the Chicago Tribune and has contributed to top periodicals.

In this well-written and psychologically intriguing memoir she appears as the daughter of a deeply scarred woman who was sent

to America in 1938 at age of 12. The “abandoned” child's parents were killed, but her voyage from home and childhood was

a “boat she could never get off.” Now she sees she'd “paid a terrible price for a better life.” Chapman's mother had been even

more reticent about her past than most survivors of the Holocaust—whose guilt is often tempered by their deep appreciation of

life. She declined an earlier reunion in her hometown, but later on (53 years after her banishment) she felt ready to compare her

petrified past with the present. Chapman was eager to travel with her, to discover the “Motherland” of her distant mother's lost

lineage. Every step of the trip back in time resonates with emotion—from renting a Volkswagen to dealing with imperious

passport officials to reading an article in the local newspaper welcoming home the “Jew” who “left.” Chapman unearthed her

mother's original house (with a restored beam whose Hebrew inscription was set backwards), located prewar gravestones in an

untended cemetery, and met everywhere nervous elderly Germans who couldn't look them in the eye. Her mother's (Christian)

childhood nanny, Mina, was refreshingly different, but most Germans stigmatized her as an associate of Jews. Mina's son

discusses how Hitler blitzed Germany with propaganda, leaving them a humiliated, defeated nation that is “fatherless and

homeless.” By the memoir's close, the author's mother is able to enjoy her baby granddaughter and a new intimacy with her

daughter—found among the ruins of her childhood.

An outstanding portrait of the painful postwar waltz of Germans, their victims, and their victims' victims. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 7th, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-88105-8
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2000


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