GROWING UP UNDERGROUND by Jane Alpert

GROWING UP UNDERGROUND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Certainly personal rage and pain, more than politics. . . led me to break violently with my parents. . . to bomb buildings, and later to reject the left with all the hostility I could muster."" In this self-scouring autobiography, Sixties terrorist Alpert searches out the causes of the activism that led to years underground and finally to the serving of a two-year jail sentence. We first see her as a smart little Jewish girl in Forest Hills. Then a brother is born with severe birth defects, necessitating all her mother's attention; her idolized father suffers business reverses, and loses authority within the family; she herself is repeatedly rejected by her classmates (""There was a code for what was cool and what was creepy, and I was unable to crack it""). And so Alpert emerges the adolescent rebel: a National Merit semi-finalist who's also into happenstance sex and political protest. At Swarth-more, the flouter-of-convention wins out over the student--though during a summer course in Athens, ""I felt the beginning of an obsession that could have turned me into a classicist."" Still, professional commitment terrifies her. On graduation, she takes a typing job with the Cambridge University Press, and soon acquires editorial responsibilities. Once again, though, she's living a dual life. At 21, she's met 32-year-old Sam Melville, radical and ideologue--who involves her in further sexual experimentation; then, in illegal activities; and, finally, in a series of bombings. Alpert attributes Melville's sudden interest in explosives to her growing independence (""He could not longer score points against me. . . thorugh his knowledge of radical politics or the breadth of his sexual experience""). Still, her attachment to Melville and radical action overrides the promising publishing career; on September 18, 1969 she plants a bomb in the Federal Building. Nabbed and on bail, she goes underground for four-and-a-half years, traveling around the country and meeting other fugitives--notably, Weathermen and women, with whom the now-feminist Alpert doesn't exactly hit it off. The death of her former roommate's baby triggers remorse at her distance from the people she does care about; the changing climate around the time of Nixon's impeachment suggests the possibility of surfacing. She turns herself in on November 14, 1974, and both she and her friend Pat, arrested shortly thereafter, quickly become Seventies symbols: Pat, ""a leftist victim of the infidelities and illusions of mainstream feminists,"" Alpert herself ""a living example of feminists' rejection of the male-dominated left."" A compelling exhumation of the motivations and emotions of an activist and, to some extent, of an age.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow