Rosenthal’s memoir recounts her restless travels and how she came to understand her family’s burden of historical trauma.
In two previous books, Lina’s Love: Postcards and Poems from Hugo and Searching for Hugo (both 2014), Rosenthal investigated her paternal grandparents’ courtship and marriage. Now she tells her own story. Born in Palestine in 1947, Rosenthal and her older brother grew up in harsh surroundings: desert heat, poor food and housing, mean kids, and critical parents. In 1957, the family moved to the United States, where Rosenthal excelled in school but had few friends. She won a full college scholarship to SUNY Stony Brook, but her parents saw it as selfishness. When she chose a different summer job over working at the family’s Dairy Queen franchise, “my mother said I was no longer her daughter.” After graduating, Rosenthal traveled to Berkeley, Europe, Africa, and India, finally returning to Berkeley; she fell in love with dance, was healed by yoga, had a baby, and pursued further education. Though often financially stressed, she inched her way upward, her progress captured in one chapter title: “From Welfare Mom to Molecular Biologist.” Rosenthal tells her story well, with many colorful descriptions of culture, people, foods, and scenery. Illuminating anecdotes and deft character sketches bring her subjects alive. In Amsterdam, she met Mitsutaka Ishi, an “impenetrable” Japanese dancer and teacher who “would say things like, ‘When you lift your arm, you must give birth to a universe under your armpit.’ ” The book offers interest as a historical travel narrative as well as autobiography. For example, she writes about South Africa under apartheid: “…we realized that these people were not cruel, or stupid….they were insane.” While hitchhiking, they always got a ride and were often invited in: “We would be served a fine dinner by a barefoot houseboy in rags, while our hosts discussed the inferiority of the African people.” Though still pained by childhood episodes, Rosenthal fairly weighs her parents’ harsh treatment against their fears and weaknesses, and her final assessment of her life—quiet contentment—seems well-earned.
An ultimately hopeful journey through hardship.