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The Leopard Hat: A Daughter's Story

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  141 ratings  ·  21 reviews
In this tender loving memoir, Valerie Steiker evokes a magical childhood on the Upper East side of New York with a woman whose own losses led her to delight in family, beauty and life itself.

Valerie Steiker’s Belgian Jewish mother, Gisèle—who, as a child in Antwerp, was hidden from the Nazis—wasn’t a typical American mom. She spoke with throaty Belgian Rs and wore only hi
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 6th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  141 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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Oct 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a marvelous memoir... rich in wonderful detail of a happy child's family and life in 60's New York. Her opening descriptions of her mother's beauty parlor was right out of my childhood... not so much the 'going to', as my mother did not, but of the knowing about and imagining the lives of those who DID patronize such places.... and the images of her family's apartment on Madison Avene, of her mother's wonderful foibles and eccentricities, of her eclectic tastes and her standards of behav ...more
Sarah Sammis
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: pc, read-in-2007
I picked up The Leopard Hat right after Harriet was born at a local BookCrossing meeting. I'd recently enjoyed some other memoirs and I liked the leopard spotted cover.

The Leopard Hat is Valerie Steiker's memories of her mother, Gisèle who died unexpectedly of breast cancer when the author was in college. The loss of a loved one, especially one as close as a dearly loved parent is difficult and sad. Writing this memoir was part of the healing process for Steiker but I wish I had spent my time re
Jun 15, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sadly, no one
Shelves: memoir
I picked this up randomly from the Memoir shelf at the library. So far it is has a basic, pretty uninspired writing style. The author clearly had an interesting mother, but there is a sense of worship that I find a little disconcerting. The author's mother did die when she was in college, so perhaps that leads to really only knowing your mother from a child's perspective which is why there seems to be such an uncritical eye. Sadly, most of the book just seems to be an outlining of how cool she a ...more
Jun 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the introductory chapters of this book to be somewhat reminiscent of other memoirs written by articulate, creative upper middle class women. I didn't feel a connection to the lifestyle. However, as it progresses, I am finding Steiker's story to be multi-layered with the sensitivity of a daughter who appreciates her mother's idiosyncratic lifestyle as part of her upbringing and cultural expectations. I am finding the author's ability to understand her own changes in perception as an adult ...more
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Reviews on Amazon were mixed because of the writing style but I really enjoyed the book. If you stopped in the first section, you might go away thinking Steiker was telling the same old tale of Upper East Side privilege, but that isn't the most important part of the story at all. The shelter that her parents provided to Valerie and her sister was remarkable to me - emotional and physical. Perhaps the truest part of the memoir is the ending, when both her parents - now dead - can be remembered in ...more
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir. She has such great descriptions of not only the relationship, but if the era and place as well. When she was in France, India, or any other place, you could really visualize it. The relationships between mother and daughter and then father and daughter later where very interesting to me. My favorite part was truly about the Leopard hat she finds in Paris and how it makes her feel and the feelings it invokes in her. For this who enjoy mother daughter memoirs, this is a good ...more
Lauren Alfrey
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read The Leopard Hat during a very lonely summer in college, spent in a strange city with few friends. I can remember being very engrossed with this book (possibly because of my lacking social life, but more likely because this book was really good!), and admiring Steiker's bold yet vulnerable voice as she investigates her own identity through her mother's history. There were parts that moved me to tears. From what I can remember, Steiker's voice was really the compelling aspect of this novel. ...more
Michelle Krasovich
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This charming memoir takes the reader through the world of the Steiker family. Their world is a happy one, filled with love, style, books and simply, all good things in life. The author takes us through the life and adventures of her mother, Gisèle Neiman, an extraordinary woman who raised her daughters with such élan and grace. With the death of Gisèle, there is sadness, but the memory of her life brings a certain beauty and a understanding. In short, I simply loved this book.
Jul 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I am sorry to say that I thought this book was utterly awful. It seemed to me to be the shallow musings of a desperately materialistic, elitist woman incapable of self-reflection who worshipped her mother and simply wanted to write about it (but not very well). I was happy to cast it aside, which is apparently what the editor did also.....
Jul 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Liga by: Lily Koppel
good, good. this is another book that easily conjures (do i put 'up' after 'conjure'?) images from films, other books, other cities, places, new york, of course, among them. however, there were a little too many things in there - in those images, in the story. things that i found hard to relate to. due to the soviet past, i think.
melanie (lit*chick)
Aug 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I remember Anna Quindlen recommending this (along with Beekeeper's Apprentice) on the Today show a few years ago and it has taken me all this time to read it.
A lovely counterpoint to all the hard knock life memoirs currently filling up the shelves. The book shines when the author is describing her mother, less so when she talks about herself, but still a worthwhile read.
Aug 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
I think that the author needed a better editor (again). There were really good parts of this, but the lack of unity, lack of any sort of organizing principle didn't work for me. It was as if she wrote a series of essays, rather than a non-fiction memoir. I actually wanted to know her mother better, rather than hear so much about the author.
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book as a reflection on how we become who were are through our mothers. One of my favorite quotes, "To create something meaningful as an adult is all the more precious because you know how ephemeral life is, how painful and difficult and even ugly it can be." It is really good.
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
I appreciate the concept of writing a glowing memoir about your idealized mother -- but it should probably be kept just for family. Writing style aside (simplistic) I thought this book was overly sentimental and only parts of it were truly interesting.
Lisa Galet klug
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I want to write stories for my daughters. I'm glad my mom, my Granny, and my Aunt Fredukah told me so many stories about their lives that I can pass forward and share: this book is the inspiration to keep telling those stories. I think I've now read it three times.
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-written and enjoyable account of a woman and her relationship with her mother. There are ups and there are downs, and the author doesn't sugar-coat the past. There is a sentiment tone, but it never overshadows the quality of the work.
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Life Changing
Jul 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I loved this book, too. Valerie Steiker is one of those amazing writers who happens to be a brilliant editor, too.
T. Finley
Did I like it? Yes.
Would I reread it? Probably not.
Would I recommend it? Not sure.
Lily Koppel
Jul 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Poignant, painterly.
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