Tag : memoir

The Lilith Blog

October 15, 2018 by

The Depth of Grandparents’ Love

51NaQ24Gg0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Lilith’s Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough spoke to memoirist and novelist Kathryn Harrison about her latest foray into family history, On Sunset.

“Blending family history and mythology, anecdotes and photographs, this book is not simply one woman’s open love letter to two magnificently eccentric grandparents; it is also a testament to the enduring power of memory,” writes Kirkus.

YZM: You have written extensively—and well as memorably and beautifully—about your family, including your grandparents, in other essays. Why did you decide to focus exclusively on them now? 

KH: I don’t so much decide to write a book as arrive at it. In the case of On Sunset, it’s only now, in my late fifties, with three adult children, that I am beginning to understand what it means to take on the care of a child—a newborn—at 71 and 62—the magnitude of my grandparents’ love. I never felt myself a burden shouldered for my irresponsible teenage mother. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 5, 2018 by

Love, Seduction and Survival—and Always, Paris

In 1950, Glynne Hiller, 26, goes to Paris with her husband, Joe, and her three-year-old daughter, Cathy, so they can all study French in the City of Light. But after a year, Glynne leaves Joe. She doesn’t love him—in fact, she questions whether she’s ever been in love—and she is looking for a more liberated life. Saucy and beautiful, Glynne charms one man after another, including the movie star Jean Gabin. Then she meets a man named Maurice and her whole understanding of love changes. Hiller, now 94, describes this transformation in the memoir Passport to Paris. She talks about her life and writing with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough. Passport to Paris

YZM: Your father, an Egyptian Jew, moved your family from England to America in 1939; did he have a sense of what was coming? 

GH: My father started a cotton mill with his brother in Guatemala, before the war started. Both of my brothers volunteered to fight: Eddie, the eldest, in the RAF (Royal Air Force). Max went into the artillery force.  Both survived. 

Meanwhile, Sally and I, separately, came to America. I came alone, and on the second night, we all came on deck were told we mustn’t make a single sound because there was a German U-boat in the vicinity. And everybody, even the children, were absolutely mum. We all cooperated. And they were already unloading the little lifeboats boats. It was very scary, I have to tell you.

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July 15, 2014 by

Cut Loose

Cut Me Loose, a memoir by Leah Vincent

 

Leah Vincent, sent away from her Pittsburgh, crowded, ultra-Orthodox family after a tempestuous early adolescence, describes her solo life at age 17 on the margins in New York Citya crucial turning point in her transformative journey from ultra-Orthodox daughter to Harvard-educated author.

 

 There is little room for the single girl in Yeshivish life. For 
a woman, the rhythm of observance is tied to family. One is either a daughter or a wife. When my sisters had lived in New York, they’d spent Shabbos and holidays with friends from seminary who had family in New York. My sisters were extroverted girls who attracted new relationships like magnets. I had no friends from seminary, and I was not bold enough to make friends with strangers or approach distant cousins and ask if I could join them for a meal.

The worst part of the loneliness was how it compounded my boredom. Television, of course, was forbidden. I did not belong to a shul; as a girl without a husband or father on the other side of the mechitza, I was not expected to attend services. When I got home from work, I ate a slice of pizza or an apple for dinner, said my evening prayers slowly, showered for as long as I could stand, and then lay in bed in my nightgown, baking in the heat, worrying about my future as the moments dragged by.

… What’s next, I wondered. If there is no world of dating and marriage waiting to pull me in, why am I here?

Each day I went through the motions of my job and then counted the long hours of the evening, alone in my apartment. I said the Shema prayer every night before sleep, but heaven seemed unresponsive.

I was always hungry. My minimum-wage check barely covered the rent, the phone bill, and the electric bill. On too many Thursdays I was left with just a slice of bread, a bottle of ketchup, and a few pieces of American cheese. I baked grilled cheese, chewing each piece dozens of times to make it last. I melted cheese and ketchup in a pot on the stove to make a gooey soup, which I choked down. I squeezed the ketchup into circles on my palms and lapped it up. I made a “salad” of bread and cheese and garnished it with ketchup.

In my father’s parables, holy men were always scraping together pennies for weddings or Shabbos food. Poverty and spirituality seemed synonymous. As a child, wearing hand-me-down clothing and living with broken furniture just made me feel proud of our family’s devotion to God.

But there was no spiritual superiority in mixing hand soap and water in an empty shampoo bottle and hoping the resulting mixture would leave my hair shiny and clean. There was no magic in stuffing ribbons of toilet paper into my socks at work to smuggle home. There was no God in the dry taste of stale bread for breakfast, lunch, and then dinner. 

After a few weeks, I picked up the phone and called my mother. “It’s Leah.”

“Hello. Hold on—One second, Boorie Tzvi! Everything okay?”

“Yes.”
“It’s very hectic now. Okay—”
“Mamme,” I cut in before my mother could hang up.

“Things are tough. You know. Even with my job, it’s hard.
 I don’t always have money for stuff, for food and stuff.” My instinct was to hide the choke in my voice, but I let it go. I wanted my mother to see the evidence, to understand how lost and overwhelmed I was feeling. “Could you help me, maybe?”

“Come on,” my mother said. “Stop being melodramatic, Leah. It’s not like you’re starving. You’re a grown-up now. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet.”

“I know,” I said, wiping my eyes on the back of my hand, ashamed of my outburst. “But it is—it is hard. I’m finding it hard.”

“We’ll see.” My mother sighed. “I just don’t know what happened. It feels like it’s one thing after another with you. You were always such a well-behaved girl. How did you become who you are now? I tell you, sometimes I think you must be possessed by a dybbuk. I don’t know how else to explain who you have turned into.”

A chorus of shouts rose behind her.
 “I’ve got to go now,” she said. “The children need me.”


A dybbuk? The diagnosis shocked me. Yeshivish Jews were not quick to speak of mystical things, let alone claim possession by a foreign evil spirit. That was the domain of the Hasidim. It was unsettling to hear my mother borrow such a foreign explanation.

If my mother thought I was possessed, then my prayers and stringencies had been for naught. There would be no thrilling conversations about someone’s son or nephew or cousin. There would be no examination of the life of some boy, of the schools and camps he’d attended, friends and neighbors, family, good deeds, personality. A possessed girl. I was marked forever.

A few days later, a twenty-dollar check arrived in the mail. I had hoped for a more robust salvation, but I was grateful for the slice of pizza, jar of peanut butter, bag of apples, bottle of shampoo, and six cans of tuna my mother’s money bought.

 

Excerpt from Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent. Published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Jan 21, 2014. Used with permission.

 

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