Kirkus Reviews QR Code
REMEMBERING AHANAGRAN by Richard White

REMEMBERING AHANAGRAN

Storytelling in a Family's Past

By Richard White

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8090-8071-0
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A “collaboration” between historian White (Univ. of Washington) and his mother, Sara, this blends formal historical research and the oral tradition. The bare bones of White’s narrative follow the family’s travails via the stories Sara and others remember being told as children, plus those they’ve lived through and generated themselves. Oral recollections, though, often fail to jive among the tellers, much less with the historical record. Therein lies the richness of this somewhat sluggishly told saga. Family members don’t even agree as to why Sara Walsh left Countty Kerrey, Ireland, in 1936 at the age of 16 to join her father and other relatives on Chicago’s South Side. She claims that she didn’t want to leave, though she hated the work on the family’s small farm, as well as working as a kind of indentured servant since the age of 11. Her father, a streetcar repairman in Chicago, had left Ireland years earlier for vague reasons of his own. Sara’s story of the train ride from New York to Chicago is a classic. With nothing to eat or drink and with no idea how to use the bathroom, she was “more absorbed in her hungers and discomforts than in America unfolding past the windows.” Things were strained for the extended family living on South Mozart Street. During the war Sara worked at Chicago Municipal Airport. On a junket to New Orleans she met her future husband, Harry White, a cum laude graduate of Harvard. Their marriage led to bitter clashes between her Irish Catholic relatives and his Jewish family. White hints that his bad memories of his father and his maternal grandmother’s refusal to speak ill of him was “the cruelest work in the book,” but he lets it go: “She insists on her memory.” A story so typical in so many ways profits from White’s personal conflict over the desire to trust familial recollection and the historian’s insistence on fact. (4 b&w photos; 2 maps)