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10 October 2009

Bending Toward the Sun: A Book Review

Title: Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother Daughter Memoir
Author: Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Rita Lurie
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: September 9, 2009
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780061734762
Genre: Memoir

From FSB Media:

A miraculous lesson in courage and recovery, Bending Toward the Sun tells the story of a unique family bond forged in the wake of brutal terror. Weaving together the voices of three generations of women, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie, provide powerful -- and inspiring -- evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, relevant to every culture in every corner of the world. By turns unimaginably devastating and incredibly uplifting, this firsthand account of survival and psychological healing offers a strong, poignant message of hope in our own uncertain times.

Rita Lurie was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic, subsisting on scraps of raw food. Young Rita watched helplessly as first her younger brother then her mother died before her eyes. Motherless and stateless, Rita and her surviving family spent the next five years wandering throughout Europe, waiting for a country to accept them. The tragedy of the Holocaust was only the beginning of Rita's story.

Decades later, Rita is a mother herself, the matriarch of a close-knit family in California. Yet in addition to love, Rita unknowingly passes to her children feelings of fear, apprehension, and guilt. Her daughter Leslie, an accomplished lawyer, media executive, and philanthropist, began probing the traumatic events of her mother’s childhood to discover how Rita's pain has affected not only Leslie's life and outlook but also Leslie's daughter's, Mikaela's. A decade-long collaboration between mother and daughter, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust remains in the hearts and minds of survivors, influencing even the lives of their descendants. It also sheds light on the generational reach of any trauma, beyond the initial victim. Drawing on interviews with the other survivors and with the Polish family who hid five-year-old Rita, Leslie and Rita bring together the stories of three generations of women -- mother, daughter, and granddaughter -- to understand the legacy that unites, inspires, and haunts them all.

My review: (with numerous revisions, my review still ended up rather long)

Bending Toward the Sun is beautifully written memoir by mother Rita "Ruchel" and her daughter Leslie, which spans 3 generations; mother, daughter, granddaughter, and how the horrors witnessed by one generation can have lasting impacts on the generations that follow. The novel begins with Ruchel, as she was known then, retelling her life as a young child in Poland who is forced to witness atrocities no one should ever have to see. Ruchel and 14 of her family members were hidden in a Polish household, left in one room, with no light, no privacy and no room to move. Rita and her family lived this way for two years, until it was safe to come down, at which point most could not walk, including Ruchel. The account, retold by Ruchel is beautiful and at the same so very sad as she and her family move from country to country living in DP camps until they were able to emigrate to the United States. Upon moving to the United States, Ruchel's name was changed to Rita, and even as she was living a better and safer life, she never felt safe. Her anxieties and fears grew and her family life changed so dramatically from what she had known in Poland, that she ultimately fell into a deep depression and sought out help. Rita's daughter, Leslie, takes up the narrative, talking about what is was like growing up, the close bond she felt to her mother and also the unspoken need she felt to make sure her mother was happy, a heavy burden for a child, yet one she instinctively undertook. Leslie writes about her account growing up in California and as an adult with her own child, Mikaela. Bending Toward The Sun began as a legacy Rita wanted to leave behind, to honour her mother and those that did not survive. Rita was uncertain about how to write it and Leslie stepped in to offer to write the novel with her mother, allowing Leslie to probe deeper into her mother's past to discover why and how such anxieties and insecurities can and are transferred from generation to generation. Bending Toward the Sun is not only beautifully written, it is also at times haunting as well as light-hearted, with an underlying pulse of a deep sadness. This novel transcends the traditional holocaust surviour story as it delves deeper into how traumatic events can be passed on from generation to generation. The novel contains many photographs of the family members throughout out their various stages of life and photos taken when they travel back to Poland and visit the couple and the farm Ruchel's family was hidden on for those two years. I found this novel to be so well researched and written that I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone. The mother daughter bond, as seen through three generations, is indeed a strong one and should not only be told, but also celebrated.

I would live to thank
FSB Media for supplying me with a copy of this engrossing novel. My review was in no part influenced by my receiving a copy.



Pricilla said...

wow. what a tragedy to have to live through and I would like to think the writing of the book was cathartic.

I don't understand what drives such hate. I never will...

okbolover said...

glad you liked this novel! I liked it myself. It was my first memoir I've read. No regrets here. :)

fredamans said...

This is on my to-read list!

Good review.

Diane said...

Wonderful Review. It sounds good.

Jenny Girl said...

Excellent review. It's hard to shorten some reviews because there is so much we want to say, especially when we connect those books. Great job Jen!

Teddyree said...

Wonderful review, I so want to read this one and even more so after reading your thoughts.

rodak1956 said...

this is my story too. I am eager to read this book as I am trying to heal from the trauma that was passed on to me from my parents who are both Holocaust survivors.