- May 11, 2012
Just in time for Mothers Day, three excellent and very different books about mothers and daughters.
Today, three excellent and very different books about mothers and daughters. Of the delightful comedy of manners, The Mother Daughter Show, our reviewer writes that “Jane Austen would have enjoyed reading about class, status and the strivings of women to achieve stature in their society and satisfaction in their lives.” Our two non-fiction books involve daughters committed to searching out truths about their mothers, truths about themselves. Following her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed embarks on an impulsive 1,100-mile solo hike up the Pacific Coast Trail, one which left our reviewer thrilled with the vivid prose, the physical adventure and the search for self. And in Crossing the Borders of Time, Leslie Maitland sets out on a different kind of adventure, the search for “her mother Janine’s long, long obsession with the young love she had to leave behind in Europe and how that loss has shaped her marriage, her parenting and her older age; and Maitland’s own possession by her mother’s history.” Good reading anytime. Perfect gifts for Mother’s Day.
The Mother Daughter Show
by Natalie Wexler
Fuze Publishing, LLC
Jane Austen would have enjoyed reading about class, status and the strivings of women to achieve stature in their society and satisfaction in their lives in The Mother-Daughter Show. We are in fairly contemporary Washington D.C., not England; The Barton School — a private Quaker school modeled on D.C.’s famed Sidwell Friends — not Netherfield; and women are communicating (or not) in committee meetings, not tea, and by e-mail rather than horse-delivered post. The times may change but human nature doesn’t, which is part of the joy of reading Natalie Wexler’s clever and witty look at what women of a certain station want. An annual event at The Barton School (where the fictional U.S. president’s daughter is a rising senior,) the Mother-Daughter Show is a folly written, danced and sung by mothers of the school’s graduating daughters, a 60-year-old tradition in which all mothers of senior girls are expected to participate. Supposedly, this tradition is a gift from the mothers to the daughters, to celebrate their time together and at their school. But in actuality, in this acutely observed social commentary, the show and its creation mark a major rite of passage for the mothers, certainly the three major players from whose point of view the readers watch the action. With their daughters launched into their own lives, college or whatever unapproved paths they may take, what is a mother to do when not defined by having a child at home to mentor, hover over, direct and, in that most loaded of all words, mother? What are these mothers to make of themselves now that their special world at their special school with their special daughters is over? How do they rethink themselves, who they are in the world and in relationship with their children when they discover that some of their fondest shibboleths about themselves are flat-out wrong? That all along, they have been missing important — and in at least one case, potentially life-threatening — information? A very fun summer read.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed
There are so many reasons to read this book. Read it if you like fast-paced adventure writing you can’t put down, as the author accounts her 1,100-mile, solo trek through the mountains of California and Oregon, for which she is naively unprepared. Read it if you are inspired by grit, courage and overcoming physical challenge. Read it if you are a hiker, or want to be. Read it if you are a nature lover and cherish our national parks. Read it if you are a young adult struggling to sort things out. Read it if, like me, you lost a parent at a young age and still ponder how that loss shaped the rest of your life. Read it for good writing, as the author peels back layer upon layer of emotion following the death of her mother. Read it if you like stories of quirky people meeting up with apple-pie Americans. Read it for entertainment. Just read it. You won’t be sorry.
Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed
by Leslie Maitland
Maitland’s first words place her on the verge of finding Roland, her mother Janine’s war-lost love. As she waits at the door where she just knocked, we step into her three-layered story of war, her mother and herself. Through meticulous research and lyrical telling, Maitland investigates her family’s years-long journeying and resettling to stay ahead of Nazi persecution; their just-in-time escape from France, where they’d fled from Germany via Cuba to the United States; their dignified persistence in creating safe lives; her mother Janine’s long, long obsession with the young love she had to leave behind in Europe and how that loss has shaped her marriage, her parenting and her older age; and Maitland’s own possession by her mother’s history (“I allowed myself to morph into her younger self”), which has infused the preoccupations and meaning of her own life. Tunneling through the story, time jumps connect complex layers of history, choice and identity. Just as we cross multiple thresholds between now and then, so we fall deeper into the story through secrets kept and not always revealed. Janine’s father never gives her Roland’s Red-Cross-forwarded telegram after the war. Maitland’s father withdraws from Janine’s lost-love focus by devoting years to a secret mistress. Maitland does not tell her mother that she is searching for Roland. In contextualizing within one family’s story Nazi Germany’s methods for eliminating Jews, and France’s complicity in that goal, Maitland shines new clarity on both the insidiousness and scope of those methods and on the courage, grueling work and luck of Jewish families able to escape. The knock on the door that first pulled us into Maitland’s story leads to improbable and intriguing contemporary connections, some built on secrets not yet revealed. The separations of war reverberate still. And so, I wait for Maitland’s sequel.