This well-crafted family memoir is about the stories that are told and the ones that are not told, and about the ways the meanings of the stories change down the generations. It is about memory and the spaces between memories, and about alienation and reconciliation.
All of Amy Hoffman's grandparents came to the United States during the early twentieth century from areas in Poland and Russia that are now Belarus and Ukraine. Like millions of immigrants, they left their homes because of hopeless poverty, looking for better lives or at the least a chance of survival. Because of the luck, hard work, and resourcefulness of the earlier generations, Hoffman and her five siblings grew up in a middle-class home, healthy, well fed, and well educated. An American success story? Not quite -- or at least not quite the standard version. Hoffman's research in the Ellis Island archives along with interviews with family members reveal that the real lives of these relatives were far more complicated and interesting than their documents might suggest.
Hoffman and her siblings grew up as observant Jews in a heavily Catholic New Jersey suburb, as political progressives in a town full of Republicans, as readers in a school full of football players and their fans.
As a young lesbian, she distanced herself from her parents, who didn't understand her choice, and from the Jewish community, with its organization around family and unquestioning Zionism. However, both she and her parents changed and evolved, and by the end of this engaging narrative, they have come to new understandings, of themselves and one another.
Amy Hoffman is a writer, editor, and long-time LGBTQ community activist in Boston. She is editor in chief of Women's Review of Books and on the creative nonfiction faculty of the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. When she is not writing, she likes reading, cooking, biking, yoga, and hanging out with her friends & her spouse, Roberta Stone. Hoffman is available to visit your book group.
In the first chapter of this family memoir, Hoffman writes, “We think history is a science, but mostly it’s simply unknowable, even our own, utterly gone, and all that’s left are guesswork and imagination. We fill in the best we can.” Using research, interviews with family members, and her memories, Hoffman has crafted a compelling non-linear narrative that introduces the reader to her extended family and the historical moments that made them who they are. Hoffman has a skeptical voice and wry wit that kept me totally engaged.
I might enjoy this. 2013. nice interview with Hoffman about this book in WRB nov 2013 "her third memoir"
"Hoffman's 2 previous books -- Hospital Time 97 and An army of ex-lovers: my life at the gay community news 2007 -- concerned the political and social movements that shaped feminists of the 2nd wave. The new book fasscinated me with its focus on immigration, assimilation, buried famly stories."
I loved the wonderful stories in this book! The writer has a beautiful writing style as well. The author's family history is representative of many of our stories, making it very interesting. However, I just didn't find the stories to be distinctive enough to merit more than a three. Disclosure: I read a prepublication copy.
Fascinating account of growing up in an upwardly mobile second generation Jewish family in the 50s and 60s and the devastating ways that homophobia gets played out to render Amy invisible to her extended family and her parent's community. Wonderful vignettes of the gay rights movement told from an early insider. This book will resonate with all baby boomers who consider themselves activists!
I really can't review this book objectively because it was written by my first cousin and to a great extent it's about MY family as well as the author's. That said, I have to say that this wonderful, thoughtful book is a great read. Very highly recommended!
I find Amy Hoffman's voice to be charming and engaging. The book bogs down a bit with some of the family lore going back one or two generations (hard to keep track of characters), but overall an enjoyable read.