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TIME'S TAPESTRY by Leta Weiss Marks

TIME'S TAPESTRY

Four Generations of a New Orleans Family

By Leta Weiss Marks

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8071-2205-X
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

 Marks's self-described ``medley of truth and fantasy'' explores her family's history in New Orleans culture and her own experiences growing up Jewish in the segregated South. Though her long look back is spurred by a desire to learn her mother's life story after a stroke has compromised Carol Weiss's health, Marks (English and Writing/Univ. of Hartford) is most animated by the troubles of her father, Leon Weiss. Huey Long's ``chosen'' architect, Leon designed many of the buildings bankrolled by Long's million-dollar infrastructure project, including the governor's mansion and the Louisiana statehouse, where the Kingfish was gunned down in 1935. After Long's assassination, Weiss--portrayed here, not surprisingly, as an innocent man ruined by his trusting nature--was implicated in the financial scandals surrounding the administration and served prison time. Shielded from the controversy by her well-meaning parents as a child, Marks seeks answers about her father's culpability. From her mother she discovers little more than a sense of the family's ingrained stoicism, which caused her people to grieve silently and separately across the years. The focus on Leon is perhaps inevitable, since Carol defines her life by her undying loyalty to her husband, even years after his death. But when Marks turns to the history of her maternal family, her tale--lacking the front-page drama of Leon's ensnarement by Long's corrupt political machine--loses momentum in the fictional dramatizations she employs to fill gaps in the evidence. Of her upbringing she recalls having ``no clear picture of what being Jewish meant,'' since family members were only casual temple-goers. Interestingly, the prejudice felt by long-established American Jews toward first-generation Eastern European immigrants (which nearly prevented her parents from marrying) seems to have affected her family more than Southern anti-Semitism did. Marks gets no hard answers about her father, but she fashions a substantial and affecting memoir. (photos, not seen)