Monday, January 10, 2011

Bending Toward the Sun by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie with Rita Lurie

Bending Toward the Sun is a collaborative memoir between Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Holocaust survivor Rita Lurie. Rita's life story provides a possible answer to the question, what would have happened if Anne Frank had survived? Like Anne Frank, Rita spent two years hidden in a Polish attic with fourteen family members. Rita lived through the war but emerged motherless, stateless, and gravely ill. After five years wandering Europe, Rita and her family receive American visas and move to the States. However for Rita, the Holocaust is only the beginning of her struggles, as she emerges permanently scarred by her experiences. Eventually she marries and has a daughter, Leslie, who she loves dearly but who is also changed by her mother's fear and guilt from being a Holocaust survivor. In turn, Leslie passes on a similar outlook to her own daughter Mikaela. In this way, Bending Toward the Sun is the story of three generations of women and shares the undeniable truth that the impact of a horror such as the Holocaust isn't restricted to those that survive but becomes a legacy passed on from generation to generation.

Bending Toward the Sun is an extremely powerful memoir about how we can inherit not only the tangible- blue eyes, brown hair- from our parents but also the intangible, their anxiety and their strength. My favourite portion of the book was the first one, which is written as dictated by Rita to Leslie, and covers not only her time in the attic but also the events that followed. Rita is just a little girl and the things she goes through, from loosing her brother and mother to nearly loosing her own life as she suffers unknowingly from bother tuberculous and rickets, are so outside my own realm of experience I wished I could reach across time and somehow help her. Included within the book are photographs relating to the times described, and they are a perfect compliment which helps remind the reader exactly how young the narrator was. Although as Leslie later emphasizes when she learns conflicting stories from other family members, Rita's memory is not perfect and she only five years old when the story begins, but regardless Bending Toward the Sun provides a powerful look into the life of one Holocaust survivor in her own words, something that which becomes increasingly rare as time passes.

Although I was slightly less fond of the sections following Rita's, I did appreciate the role they played in explaining how Rita's experiences in turn influenced how her daughter would see the world. For many years Leslie was afraid to move away from home and constantly felt responsible for her mother's happiness, a huge burden on her shoulders. Despite all her mother put her through, Leslie is able to continue to see the strength Rita possesses and recognizes that a lot of what she is a coping mechanism that was instilled in her from such great horror at a young age. Where I connected less to Bending Toward the Sun was the section written by Mikaela, which was about as well done as anything written by a twelve-year old could be expected to be but seemed more like a school essay than something that really triggered an emotional response in the reader. I also wish Leslie had focused slightly less on her own daughter's experiences, such as having a hard time being away from home and being extremely clingy. The point Leslie is trying to make is that the impact of the Holocaust continues even in the following generations of the survivors, and I feel that could have been said slightly more concisely and without so much detail on the life of her own daughter. While Leslie grew up living with Rita and experienced her issues first hand, Mikaela is yet another generation removed and although I appreciated that she continued to be influenced by her grandmother's experiences I found it much less interesting from a historical perspective.

Ultimately, Bending Toward the Sun is a well-written and unique look into the life of one Holocaust survivor and an important reminder of the legacies our parents pass onto us. As fewer and fewer survivors of the Holocaust remain, having a written record of what they went through becomes increasingly important. However as Bending Toward the Sun reminds the reader, as long as descendants exist the tragedy of the Holocaust will never truly be forgotten.

Release Date: August 18, 2009
Pages: 368
Overall: 4/5
Source: FSB Associates
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1 comment:

  1. This is a great review. Such a terrible time and so much suffering.


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