Passage by Sandy Powers
D. Blankenship (The Ozarks) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Passage (Paperback)
It is not that often that I come across a book that completely captives me and hold my interest from the first sentence right to the last. I started this book and literally could not put it down and read it straight through in one setting.
There are reasons for this. First, this is a very compelling story...more about that later. Secondly, this author is quite skillful, i.e. she can truly write and forth, we get a very insightful look of what was like in our country from the early days of the depression all the way through the 1950s. Good story, good writing, good history lesson and a glimpse into the life of a rather remarkable woman.
Upon her mother's death, the author finds several boxes of documents; letters, news clippings, legal papers and journal entries along with a letter from her mother to "her children." The author is suddenly faced with the absolute fact that she simply did not know her mother as she thought she did. Through this documentation she found that her mom was not the person who had lovingly raised her...there were secrets!
This is the story of a remarkable woman; the author's mother, Grace Balogh.
The author has used documents and journal entries left by her mother that takes the reader though Grace's life starting as an (unknown to Grace herself) adopted child. When her mother died, she found herself in an extremely abusive situation (physically and mentally) overseen by a not very nice step-mother. Married at the age of 16 to the love of her life, the author's father, the young couple starts life during the Great Depression.
The reader is given a very good account of the hard times known to many during that era where survivability was literally on the line. This eventual mother of five was a quiet but determined woman and the reader gets the impression that she was able to hold the family and life together under some very arduous circumstances. So far we have a grim but rather typical story of what so many went through. Then the war came, World War II. Life changed. Society Changed.
The reader, especially the younger reader must realize that times and attitudes were different then. Society in many ways was much more brutal and uncaring that it is today. On top of all of this, right after the war, we had the situation or phenomena which we now refer to as The Cold War. Communism was a real threat. We are not talking about the rich, well educated "Tea Room Communists," who in retrospect were a rather pathetic lot, but the hard core "Reds" who did indeed pose a threat to this country. Through a rather odd set of circumstances, this rather mild mannered woman; a wife, mother of five, PTA member and all around good citizen, found herself working for the FBI as an undercover informant investigating a Communist cell in their local area. For five years Mrs. Balogh latterly led two lives (Remember the old T.V. series "I Led Two Lives?"...The Herbert Philbrick story).
Now this is not a "James Bond" type of thriller. No, it is the story of an ordinary woman leading an ordinary life who did some very unordinary things.
We are lucky that the author has the literary ability to bring this story to us but at the same time we are lucky that the author's mother apparently also had that ability. Her journal entries attest to the fact that she, like her daughter, had wonderful writing and communication skills.
Not only was I fascinated by this woman's life, but after reading copies of her letters (which are recorded verbatim in the book) and those that she received, we are given a good look into the mindset of the American people during the depression during time of war and of course during the Cold War. This is interesting and valuable stuff folks.
All in all this was a wonderful and worthwhile read!
AuthorHouse (140 pp.)
$21.95; $12.95 paperback $9.99 e-book
March 1, 2011
A mother’s collected memories reveal her remarkable life in this work of nonfiction.
Powers (Organic for Health, 2007) brought home her moribund mother Grace to spend her last living days surrounded by the family she adored. Grace had led a long, full life, but her children could not possibly have imagined just how full until after she passes away, and Powers discovered boxes full of her mother’s carefully recorded memories that told the unexpectedly compelling story of Grace’s secret life. While the candid family photographs, legal documents and authentic newspaper clippings help illuminate the reality behind Powers’ sentimental portrait of her mother, “All else,” Powers writes in the foreword, “is as close to true accounts as I could make them.” That leaves Powers’ few elegant pages of introductory prose and, more compellingly, her mother’s journal—which constitutes the bulk of the short book—open to questions of verisimilitude. So be it; despite the liberties Powers may have taken, it’s an enthralling read. Correspondence with a church reveals Grace was adopted at a young age, never able to discover the identity of her biological parents. After the death of her adoptive mother and abuse at the hands of her adoptive stepmother, Grace managed to grow into a sensible, loving wife and mother in a small Ohio town. She and her husband strove for an honest living in the wake of the Great Depression until witnessing a neighbor’s gruesome murder cracked any sense of normalcy. And then came war. Patriotism runs deep throughout Grace’s journal; reprinted letters from World War II offer a frank depiction of life during wartime, both for the soldiers facing combat and for civilians, like Grace, at home sacrificing for their country. Grace’s patriotic sacrifice launches the book’s most stunning revelation—she infiltrated Cold War communist factions as an undercover spy for the FBI. Often the journal entries, particularly those containing the more incredible admissions, read like summaries of profound events rather than a dutiful narration, as if the journal—either because of Grace as writer or Powers as editor—was meant only as an introduction to the deeper story. Perhaps Grace intended to tell her daughter the story herself one day, with the detail it deserves. Now this book will suffice.
The rare family scrapbook that isn’t boring to the outsider.
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