A poignantly eloquent meditation on the genetics of belonging.

THE SHAPE OF THE EYE

A MEMOIR

The moving, heartbreakingly lucid story about how a family learned to cope with, and ultimately appreciate, a daughter born with Down syndrome.

Friends had told poet Estreich (Textbook Illustrations of the Human Body, 2004) and his scientist wife that a “second child changes everything.” Neither, however, was prepared for the news that the baby girl they would name Laura had Trisomy 21, Down syndrome. Both were devastated; but for the author, the diagnosis had even more profound implications. John Langdon Down, the Victorian-era physician after whom Laura’s condition was named, had called it the “‘Mongolian idiocy.” “Twisted, weird, and wrong” as this label was, it named not only Laura’s diagnosis, but also the half-Japanese Estreich’s own ethnic identity. “To have a child, any child, is to thrust ordinary mysteries into the foreground: mortality, love, inheritance.” As he and his wife struggled to come to terms with their daughter’s condition and the future it portended, Laura suffered heart failure and had to be force-fed through nasal tubes. Yet the little girl survived. Soon, the visits to doctors, cardiologists, nutritionists and speech pathologists and other accommodations the family made for Laura began to feel normal. What struck Estreich as bizarre was the negativity, both intended and unwitting, that pervaded the accounts he read about Down syndrome. Laura was a child first and not a diagnosis. And the fate written into the 47 chromosomes of her DNA was no more tragic than that of other children who carried their own genetic risks hidden within supposedly “normal” bodies. With the humility born of painful experience, Estreich concludes that “it is not the chromosome, but our response to it, that shapes the contour of a life.”

A poignantly eloquent meditation on the genetics of belonging.

Pub Date: April 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-0399163340

Page Count: 288

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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