Gorney (Syracuse University: An Architectural Guide, 1996) remembers his childhood and chronicles his adult journey to discover his Romanian roots.
In this memoir, the author tells the story of his loving, lively Romanian family and his quest to better understand them and his larger heritage. The first section focuses on Gorney’s earliest memories as he was raised by his mother and grandparents, surrounded by a host of motley cousins and relatives. Later, the memoir transitions into the author’s adult travels in Romania, where he explored the cities and towns where his relatives lived and found long-lost family gravesites. Along the way, he attempts to paint a detailed picture of the country that shaped his family’s cultural heritage and lay out the historical context of their lives. Gorney is a clear, fluid writer whose love and appreciation for his family clearly shines through. Lovely sentences (“time picks the pockets of truth”) convey the fragility of the history he’s searching for. The narrative works best when it focuses tightly on a few characters, such as Gorney’s grandparents, and goes into detail about their lives. The inclusion of photographs, and even recipes, helps flesh out these moments and brings them vividly to life. At times, however, the text mentions too many names of extended family members at once, which may make it difficult for readers to follow along. The same holds true when the adult Gorney journeys to Romania with his mother: the chapters that focus generally on Romanian history tend to drag, but when they zoom in tightly on the search for one particular gravesite, it heightens readers’ emotional investment in the story. Although the memoir is a bit uneven, overall, Gorney still does an admirable job of placing his own family’s tale on the page and making it accessible to a wider audience, which is no small feat.
A lovingly detailed exploration of family history and memory.