Steve Luxenberg - Official Website

Friday, May 29, 2009

Letting Go of Annie's Ghosts

Every author event has the potential for a conversation like this one, which I had the other day at an appearance in Washington:

A woman told me that when her husband had a "nervous breakdown" in the 1970s, she didn't tell anyone. He recovered, and then last year, had a second episode. This time, she said, she told everyone. "I needed the support from my friends," she explained. "The first time, I went through it alone. I wasn't going to do that again."

Nor did she think that silence was necessary. The attitude toward mental illness had changed dramatically in those 30 years, she felt. She was right: Her friends gathered around her, sustained her, helped her.

Secrecy (and its benign cousin, privacy) has its benefits. Families, as I write in Annie's Ghosts, need not live their lives as open books for anyone to read. But when a secret causes pain, for yourself or others, then it's time to think about whether to let it go. I wish my mom had been able to let go of hers. I don't think she intended to keep it for her entire life, and I'm certain it caused her considerable pain (and guilt).

Since my last blog (more than two weeks ago!), the book has garnered a good deal of attention, and much praise from reviewers, both in print and online. I'll probably never get comfortable with the self-promotional part of book writing, so I'll just mention a few here (a full list will appear soon at the part of the website reserved for self-promotion, the Press page, under About the Book).

Barry Werth, in a Washington Post review, called Annie's Ghosts "a poignant investigative exercise, full of empathy and sorrowful truth.”

Elaine Margolin, reviewing in the Jerusalem Post, wrote that "Luxenberg dons many hats in this masterful piece of work; he is simultaneously a historian on Jewish immigration, a Holocaust researcher, an investigative reporter, a memoirist and always a grieving son.”" (I'm not sure I can adopt the "always a grieving son" part, but I'm open to "masterful.")

Kyle Norris, of Michigan Public Radio, took me on a walking tour of the places that I visited in Detroit while researching Annie's Ghosts. Her piece, which ran four minutes, bores in on the personal side of the story, and the tenuous balance I tried to maintain as both a son and a journalist. (Speaking of balance: It is possible, I learned, to walk and talk in a microphone at the same time, without tripping. Well, maybe an occasional stumble, primarily in the talking department.)

One online reviewer, C Wahlman, wrote at amazon.com: "The simple task of finding Annie turns into a debate about secrecy, morality, privacy, the wishes of the deceased, and the obligations of the living."

I wish I had written that.

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