A debut memoir chronicles a woman’s struggle to make peace with her father’s death in World War II.
In 1945, Reynolds’ father was killed during the Battle of the Bulge when his jeep hit a land mine near Luxembourg while he was serving as a soldier in World War II. She remembers the dark day her mother received a telegram relating the grim news, and their shared inconsolableness, an episode poignantly related by the author. Reynolds’ mother was remarried in 1947 to a painter, Sam Joseph, and gradually the family was reconstituted to erase the painful remembrance of the author’s transformative loss. A photograph and the fatigue cap that her father gave her before he decamped for war suddenly disappeared from her room. Reynolds’ family stopped visiting her paternal grandparents, opting instead to spend time with Joseph’s parents. And then in 1951, when the author was 11 years old, her family moved from its Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan to a house in the suburbs of Connecticut. A Jew accustomed to being surrounded by others of her faith, Reynolds learned to become an outlier, often the target of malicious taunts by her Christian peers. But she was eventually reunited with her father’s side of the family when she met Anna Hoech, who had kept in touch with those relatives and had worked as a nanny for the younger siblings of Reynolds’ mother. The author became close friends with her Aunt Greta, who escaped Nazi-occupied France, and was inspired to learn as much as she could about her father and his family’s history. In 1999, married and living in Florida, she joined the American War Orphans Network, an organization dedicated to supporting others who have experienced similar losses. Reynolds writes in the sparest prose, unembellished by literary invention and almost childlike, which imbues it with a kind of moral power (“Greta…became my favorite aunt. We even looked alike—the same coloring, similar build, and kindred smiles. The connection between us was instantaneous. I knew at once that she would become one of the most important people in my life”). The memoir, featuring old black-and-white photographs, meanders shiftlessly sometimes, wandering too far from the story’s main themes. But the author’s profound sense of abandonment is affectingly portrayed as well as the solace she found in the investigation of her father’s lineage.
A touching family account expressed in unadorned but emotionally arresting language.