Sunday, May 24, 2009
A Review of Annie's Ghosts
I've heard it said that secrets are rarely as secret as we might imagine them to be. Annie's Ghosts is the story of one family's secret--a woman who was both mentally handicapped and mentally ill.
The author, Steve Luxenberg, is a Harvard-educated Jewish (ethnically) journalist from Detroit. In 1995 his mother told someone about a disabled sister. Since his mother had always held herself out to be an only child, this woman called the family. Steve and his siblings decided that since his mother hadn't told them about her sister, they would drop the subject. Luxenberg's mom died in 1999 and in 2000, an annual bill for flower planting not only on the graves of her parents but also for the grave of "Annie" arrived. He decided to try to learn more about Annie and why the family had never been told of her existence. In the process he not only writes a book about his mother and his aunt, but also about the mental health and welfare system as it existed in the 1930's to 1970's.
Luxenberg's search for his aunt, and in some ways, his mother, takes him to old family friends and relatives around the country. He even ends up with a trip to the Ukraine to the village from which his father came. He learns about his parents' early marriage by reading letters they exchanged during WWII. He tells stories of dealing with bored bureaucrats, and helpful civil servants. His quest not only teaches him about his aunt, but also about his parents, grandparents and other relatives.
This is a well-written interesting book and I highly recommend it.