What follows is a the opening of a review first published by the Jewish Book Council. The full review is available on JBC.
The Escape Artist, by Helen Fremont. Gallery Books. 351 pages. Hardcover $28.00
Review by Philip K. Jason [bio in my recent JBC reviews]
This powerful, intelligent, and highly moving memoir explores with readers the persistence of trauma as it affects children of survivors. Helen and her sister Lara, as they grew up, had gathered pieces of their parents’ (and other relatives’) Holocaust experiences. They realized, with varying degrees of trepidation, that much had been hidden from them.
The parents’ large personalities release hints that burst through the masks, signaling
that much had been withheld. The secrets involve a sense of shared obligations, daring decisions, invented biographical details, and doses of crippling shame. The daughters lived in a shadow world that had its own life, one that was only slowly and partially revealed. It’s almost as if the mother and father were ashamed of surviving, and parts of their disguised cover stories, once revealed, explain why.
As a writer, Fremont is a fine clinician, pressing to understand and explore her trauma inheritance. Over and over, she shares searing incites and devastating disappointments.
Her life and worth become a strange kind of penance for never truly knowing the sacrifices that the parents had to endure, submerge, and transform. The parents manifest a sorrowful kind of survivors’ guilt that they transformed into a range of valuable accomplishments. Always fearing exposure, they strove to steer the daughters away from experiences and decisions that might risk exposure of the almost buried past. They overstepped the normal borders of familial love, using parental power as a weapon rather than an embrace or commendation. They were monstrous in the way they played favorites.
For decades, the sisters were psychologically victimized and manipulated into making each other victims. . . .
This article was originally published by Jewish Book Council. JBC enriches and educates the community through public programming, a literary journal, weekly reviews and essays, discussion questions, and over twenty literary awards. Find out more here.