Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

This book made me think. That’s probably the greatest compliment I can give the book. It got me thinking on so many different levels. It’s not a book that you can rush through riding an adrenalin high but one that is best enjoyed slowly savoring the journey. I found myself dreading the arrival of the end where we would have to part ways.

Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg is the story of a son who discovers a family secret that has been hidden for a lifetime. Shortly before his mother’s death, Luxenberg learns that she was not an only child as she had always told everyone. His strong desire to understand his mother’s lifelong deception sent him on a quest to unravel the mystery of her hidden sister, Annie.

The book tackles enormous issues such as historical views on physical disability, mental illness, immigration, family secrets, poverty, the nature of kinship and the Holocaust. Luxenberg does not simply relate these issues as they connect to his own family. Instead, with tenacious and tireless energy he delves deep into the social history of the subjects to help the reader understand contemporary viewpoints and perceptions. Luxenberg takes the reader on a journey through past stigmas of poverty and mental illness that make us confront where we came from and where we stand now.

During his in-depth research Luxenberg left no stone unturned, even researching the magazines his mother read in an attempt to understand the perceptions of the time. The author clearly utilized his background as an investigative journalist unearthing record sources when none should have existed. Genealogists will be left with the impression that they still have a thing or two to learn about reasonably exhaustive research.

This book is so personal that I felt like I was researching right along with the author. It’s a voyage where Luxenberg lays his emotions bare in a way that is raw, honest and candid. At times, I wondered whether I should be privy to such an intimate view of his family. As he challenges the past and himself, he also challenges the readers to identify their own true feelings of family history and kinship. Luxenberg’s ability to jump from the intimate to the cerebral demonstrates his exquisite skill as a masterful writer to control the unraveling of his story.

This book succeeds because, like others of its genre, one person comes to represent the “everyman” in a moment in time. Luxenberg’s Aunt Annie stands as a testament to all institutionalized people and for all the families who felt shame and kept them a secret.

Annie’s Ghosts is a perfect selection for book groups to read and discuss. The topics of family and human nature are familiar conversation starters for all readers.

This is a powerful book!

Title: Annie's Ghosts
Author: Steve Luxenberg
Publisher: Hyperion, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2247-2
401 pages with photos, end notes, index and list of family members and  recurring figures

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book! Luxenburg is such an example of how to do in-depth, exhaustive research. He may not have succeeded so well if his aunt had lived in the mid-1800s but fortunately, for all of us, she didn't and he shared his research and the haunting story of his mother and aunt, with us.