ETHEL: The Fictional Autobiography by Tema Nason
Kirkus Star

ETHEL: The Fictional Autobiography

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

On June 19, 1953, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, 37, mother of two boys, and her husband Julius were executed at Sing Sing, having been convicted of passing on atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Like the Sacco-Vanzetti case three decades earlier, the controversial case has spawned a number of books and articles (including The Rosenberg File, 1983, a quietly reasoned best seller by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton). In this portrait of a doomed woman, first-novelist Nason has created an existential heroine who finds within a ring of malice and hopelessness her own precious identity and integrity. Nason's Rosenbergs are innocent of the charges, but in this ""fictional autobiography,"" the author is more concerned with Ethel's terrible inner battle under the shadow of death. In the final months and days on death row, Ethel reviews her life; and within a nightmare of pain (the love and loss of her children and husband), she will build her own world to survive. She remembers episodes in her childhood and life in the Depression as the only daughter of poor Jewish immigrants in N.Y.C.; the joys of applause for her singing and acting when ""the future was. . .shining gold""; hard, bitter times, and the struggle to break free of poverty and her mother's harsh, bitter anger; the union straggles; then meeting ""Julie."" Gradually, over the days of scouring memories and visitors with no good news, Ethel narrows her world to a moral battle between decency and cruelty, justice and its mockery, and then betrayal. The most hideous betrayal was that by Ethel's mother, who shaped brother David for treachery: his court testimony sealed Ethel's fate. It is her ever love-denying mother, whose face can ""explode in flames of rage,"" that Ethel renounces in order to free herself for what is essentially a sacrificial death. Nason's Jeanne d'Arc in a last confession--at first delivered in the flat accents of a city child of the Depression, later with a triumphant eloquence. A powerful feminist tribute.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Delacorte