Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret [NOOK Book]


Newly selected Great Michigan Read 2013-14 and a Michigan Notable Book for 2010

One of the Washington Post Book World's "Best Books of 2009," Memoir

Beth Luxenberg was an only child. Or so everyone thought. Six months after Beth's death, her secret emerged. It had a name: Annie.
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Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

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Newly selected Great Michigan Read 2013-14 and a Michigan Notable Book for 2010

One of the Washington Post Book World's "Best Books of 2009," Memoir

Beth Luxenberg was an only child. Or so everyone thought. Six months after Beth's death, her secret emerged. It had a name: Annie.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Beth Luxenberg was an only child; or so her son Steve believed until his mother, now fragile and almost an octogenarian, told a doctor that she had a disabled sister. Steve was puzzled: If his mother had a sibling, why had her existence been resolutely concealed for decades? His curiosity piqued, Luxenberg activated his journalistic skills to begin a probe into his family's lines. Following the trail took his investigation to Depression-era Detroit and tsarist Russia, Holocaust-plagued Ukraine and the Philippine war zone. Fascinating human interest; a real-life whodunit.
Barry Werth
…probing, wise and affecting…Luxenberg is an exhaustive, meticulous reporter, and he worries about the things good reporters worry about: making too much of a fact or a connection; the failing memories of his sources, whom he invites to remember conversations and unspoken feelings a half-century old…Beth told her son often that she loved him. Annie's Ghosts is his elegy in return, a poignant investigative exercise, full of empathy and sorrowful truth.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
A family secret leads Washington Post senior editor Luxenberg to reinterpret his family history. In 1995, the author learned that his aging mother had a sister she had never mentioned. It came up during a visit to the doctor; her parents had institutionalized their disabled two-year-old when she was four, she said, and she never saw her sister again. Since his mother was facing severe medical problems, Luxenberg felt this wasn't the time to pursue the details. After his mother's death a few years later, he learned that the sister's name was Annie and she was buried with his grandparents in Michigan. Determined to discover the truth about Annie, he began his investigation with an endless list of difficult questions. He learned that Annie had a deformed leg, amputated in 1936 when she was 17, and mental health problems. Her parents committed her to a state institution in 1940, a time when such places served primarily to remove patients from society rather than to help them recover or become fit to live in the outside world. Luxenberg's mother had been 23, not four, when Annie was committed. To the shame of being poor was added the stigma of having a sister in a state institution because they couldn't afford anything better. She wanted a different future, and to achieve this she believed she would have to bury her sister and her own childhood; she began to deny Annie's existence completely, telling people she was an only child. As Luxenberg slowly uncovers Annie's story, he realizes that by exposing one ghost, he exposes thousands; by discovering one secret, he discovers those of his entire family. The author calls on his investigative reporting skills not just to uncover the facts, but toexplore what happens when lies or omissions become truth, exposing the contradictions, contrasts and parallels that exist within every life, every relationship and every family. Beautifully complex, raw and revealing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401394424
  • Publisher: Hachette Books
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 75,485
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Steve Luxenberg has been a senior editor with the Washington Post for 20 years. He lives in Baltimore, MD. This is his first book.
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Read an Excerpt


A Journey into a Family Secret
By Steve Luxenberg


Copyright © 2009 Steve Luxenberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2247-2

Chapter One

Spring 2000

"Who the heck is Annie?"

My younger brother Jeff was on the phone from Boston.

After Mom's death, he had taken on the unenviable task of dealing with her final tax return, her outstanding bills, and her forwarded mail. In March 2000, a solicitation arrived from Hebrew Memorial Park, the cemetery where Mom's parents, our grandparents, are buried. Spring was around the corner, and the cemetery was offering to plant flowers on the grave sites. Cost: $45 each.

Except the solicitation listed not two graves, but three: Hyman Cohen, Tillie Cohen, Annie Cohen.

Annie. Just one word and yet it made Mom's sister so much more ... real.

The solicitation also should have raised doubts about Mom's claim of ignorance regarding her sister. Mom obviously had been receiving these letters for years. But strange as it seems, that didn't occur to me at the time. Still the trusting son, I thought instead: What a shame this didn't come to light earlier. Mom could have learned something about what happened to her long-lost sister.

"That must be the sister," I said.

"What sister?" Jeff asked.

As proof of how lightly the secret had skipped acrossthe family surface five years earlier, Jeff had no recollection of ever hearing about it. Our memories conflicted. I could have sworn that Sash and I had told Jeff and Mike about it at the time, even debated with them whether the story could be true, sought their views about whether to ask Mom. Jeff, however, said that it was all news to him. So did Mike, when he heard about the cemetery's offer.

Curiosity took over now, as I imagined what we might find out. I assumed that Annie must have died when she was quite young, and that my grandparents probably had decided not to tell their older daughter, believing that it was better for her to be in the dark about her sister's fate than to endure the pain of losing her entirely. That kind of thinking was typical of the older generations in my family, which seemed to have a collective amnesia about anything sad, tragic, or pre-American. So I grew up with only the fuzziest of notions about my family's origins. Mom's parents were Polish or Russian Jews, while Dad's came from somewhere in what is now northeastern Poland, and all of them, from both sides, had arrived before 1920.

Beyond that, it was pretty much a mystery. Our family tree had no branches older than our grandparents; we didn't know whether we descended from farmers or merchants or soldiers or rabbis. We didn't know if our grandparents had left behind relatives in Eastern Europe, and if so, whether they had survived or perished in the Holocaust. We heard no stories about life in the old country, and what's more, we didn't much care-we were a modern American family, looking ahead rather than back, determined to make something of ourselves, freed of whatever injustices or circumstances had held back our European ancestors. "Mom taught us to move on, to go forward," Mike reminded me. The past wasn't just past. It was irrelevant.

But for me, Annie was different. She belonged to my mom's generation; born here, lived here, died here, buried here. If we could find out about this unknown aunt of ours, why not try? If for no other reason, it seemed important for our kids to know the reason for her institutionalization, in case there was a genetic basis for whatever disability she had.

Jeff put a halt, temporarily, to my speculation. How did we even know, he said, that this Annie was Mom's sister? With the last name of Cohen, she could be Hyman's sister, or cousin, or some other relative. The reply Jeff sent to the cemetery office, even before he called me, had reflected his uncertainty: "Beth Luxenberg passed away this past year.... Could you tell me the relation of Annie Cohen to Hyman and Tillie Cohen, if your files so indicate?"

Elaine Klein at Hebrew Memorial Park was only too happy to help. Several weeks later, we had photocopies of all three burial records. Annie's consisted of a single page, couched in the language of officialdom. Deceased's name: Annie Cohen, of 3710 Richton in Detroit. Time of death: 4:30 A.M. Place of death: Broadstreet Medical. Occupation: None. Parents' names: Hyman and Tillie Cohen. Martial status: Never married. Citizen: Native. Date of death: August 7, 1972. Age at death: 53.

Here was conclusive evidence: Annie was Mom's sister. But beyond that, I was more confused than ever. Fifty-three years old when she died? Had she been in institutions for more than half a century? If that were true, why did the burial record list her place of residence as 3710 Richton? That was where my grandmother, my Bubbe, was living when she died in 1966, six years before Annie's death. (I was nearly a teenager before I understood that "Bubbe" wasn't her name but was Yiddish for grandmother, which also explained why every other Jewish grandmother I knew was named Bubbe.)

My grandparents had moved to the Richton apartment in the mid-1950s. Had Annie lived there with them at some point? That didn't seem possible. Growing up, I had visited that apartment every Saturday for nearly a decade-I took a weekly allergy shot at Dr. Bernstein's office close by, and stopping at Bubbe's was a required part of the trip. I still remember the sounds and smells of the place: the scary, creaky elevator with the heavy accordion-like inner gate; the Old World scent that permeated my grandmother's furniture, her clothes, and her hair; the vanilla wafers that had a permanent place on her kitchen table.

Dropping by Bubbe's wasn't my first choice for a Saturday activity; I saw it as a detour on the way to an afternoon of basketball. But while I might have been impatient about the visits, I wasn't oblivious-if Annie had lived there, I would have known it.

The burial record raised still more questions: It listed the "informant" for Annie's death as "Northville State Hospital Records." I vaguely recalled that Northville was a place for the mentally ill. I turned the page over. On the back, under "Survivors," there was a single, startling line: "1 sister-Mrs. Jack (Beth) Luxenberg, 22551 Fargo."

If Mom had lost all contact with her sister, how had the cemetery-or was it Northville-known my mother's whereabouts?

I stopped thinking like a son and began thinking like a journalist. "I'm trying to figure something out from what you sent my brother," I told Elaine at the cemetery office when I reached her, a bit shaky at the implications of the question I was about to ask. "Can you tell from your records who handled the arrangements for Annie's burial?"

Elaine said she would cheek the file. I was at work, where I was supposed to be editing an article for the weekly commentary section of The Washington Post, which I oversaw at the time. Instead, my mind raced with the jumble of possibilities: If Mom knew about her sister's death in 1972, maybe she wasn't telling the truth when she said she didn't know what had happened to Annie. If she knew about Annie, did she tell anyone else? Did my dad know?

My mind drifted back to what I was doing in August 1972. I was home from college that summer. Had Mom managed to bury Annie without my knowledge?

Was I that clueless?

Elaine's answer was intriguing but not definitive. A rabbi had conducted a service of some kind; typically, the family would make that arrangement. But the file was old, she reminded me, and the cemetery didn't keep a copy of the payment. So she couldn't say for sure.

I didn't feel stymied, though-the burial record contained plenty of leads. I could check birth and death records, newspaper death notices, and old Detroit city directories, just the kind of detective work I relished during my investigative reporting days.

Later, the debate would begin. My siblings and I would talk about whether it was a good idea to unearth this information, whether the secret-whatever it was-should remain buried. After all, we had decided not to ask Mom about it when she was alive. Now that she was no longer here to add her two cents to the debate, was it right, or fair, to go ahead without knowing her views?

Those were tough questions, and ones that I would eventually have to confront before deciding whether to write this book. In the spring of 2000, however, a book wasn't on my mind. I had no idea what I was going to do with the information I was collecting. It just seemed like something we should know. Mom had a sister. We had an aunt. What could we learn about her?

A month later, I placed a call to the Michigan Department of Community Health, overseer of the state's mental health system. Unsure what to say or even whom to ask, I talked to several employees before landing in the hands of a woman who served as the traffic cop for this busy intersection of government in Lansing. Trying to be brief, I told her the bare bones: The family had recently discovered that our mom had a sister who might have been a patient at Northville. We wanted to find out more.

"You and five thousand other people," she replied.

What did that mean? I was well aware that state asylums had once held thousands of people, and that many had remained there for decades. But the deinstitutionalization movement had ended that era years ago, back in the 1970s. Why, I asked her, would so many people be seeking information about their relatives now?

"I get dozens of calls a month from people just like you," she replied.

Now I did start to take notes.

Who's making all these calls? I asked.

"Family members," she said, "who have just discovered that they have a relative they never knew about."

And what can you tell them? I said.

"I can't tell them anything," she said. "State law doesn't let me."

But I'm next of kin, I told her.

Doesn't matter, she said. You'll need a court order, and even then, you'll need a good reason, such as a concern about something genetic.

That doesn't make sense, I said. My aunt's been dead thirty years. What's the harm?

She laughed-sympathetically, I thought, if a laugh can be described that way.

"It's known as the Patient Protection Act," she said. "But sometimes we call it the Hospital Protection Act."

She seemed in no rush to get off the phone. She talked about how she had once helped a twin look for her deinstitutionalized sister by providing a key bit of information. The twins later reunited and sent her a photo of their reunion. I could tell she wanted to help me, if she could just figure out a way within her interpretation of the law.

"Do the Northville records exist?" I said. "There's no point in seeking a court order or suing to get the records if they don't."

"They might have been destroyed," she said. "The hospitals are supposed to keep them for twenty years after discharge, but there are so many records that they don't always get around to destroying them."

Would you be willing to check for me?

She said she had a friend at Northville she could ask. Trying to make myself into more than a disembodied voice, I gave her my address, and my home and office phone numbers. When I hung up, however, I thought pessimistically: dead end.

Several weeks later, she left me a voice mail. It took me half a minute to place the name. I called back immediately.

"No luck," she said. "My friend couldn't find any records."

Just accept it, I thought: A dead end, for sure.

A few days later, a hastily written note appeared on the fax machine at work. "My computer is down so I can't type this note," it said. "I just heard from Northville, and they did find Annie's file.... Her discharge summary is being faxed to me tomorrow and I'll fax it to you."

I arrived at the office early the next morning, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, hoping to get a good start on the day's tasks. The promised fax was already there. I sat down for a quick look.


On a sheet with the heading "Eloise Hospital" (what was that?), next to the line "Date of Admission," I saw, "4-26-1940." Directly below was Annie's date of birth: "4-27-1919." Couldn't be. According to this record, Annie wasn't two years old when she went to the institution. She was a day shy of twenty-one.

And Mom wasn't four.

She was twenty-three.

It's rare to learn something so head-snapping, so mind altering, so frame-shattering. Annie: twenty-one. My mother: twenty-three. They had grown up together.

If each of us has a personal time line, then this new fact had no place in my mother's. She had told us so many stories about her childhood, and told them so often, that we had a standing joke when she repeated one. "Number 32," we'd chime, much to her good-natured annoyance. Sometimes, to drive the point home even harder, we'd go to three digits. "538," one of us would say. "Or wait, was that 422?"

I knew the stories so well that I had images to go with the text. There was Hyman, the tall, gaunt, junk peddler who rarely spoke, and whose English, when he did speak, made clear that he did not feel entirely comfortable in his adopted homeland. There was Tillie, the diminutive woman with kindly eyes, a permanent hint of sadness in her smile and a severely rounded back that made her look much older than her age. And there was Mom, the only child, living with her parents until well into her twenties, forced by circumstances to remain at home, struggling to withstand the ravages of the Depression. She and Hyman and Tillie, just the three of them, in their cramped walk-up apartment on West Euclid Street in Detroit.

Now, Annie. A fourth person. In my mind's eye of life on Euclid, I had no space for Annie, no idea where she fit. Accommodating her required more than revising the old stories. We couldn't just call them 538a and 422b. We needed to re-imagine, re-consider, re-interpret, rewrite.

At first, I could not imagine. I thought of Josh and Jill, my two children, also born two years apart. They weren't even out of high school, but already they had a lifetime of shared experiences, documented by our photo albums: the mundane and the memorable, the silly and the serious. Whatever their relationship as adults might become, could either one construct a world, a childhood, or a life in which the other didn't exist?

And what about Annie? What was her personal narrative?

I turned back to the faxed pages in my hands. Three of them came from the beginning of the case, standard forms that recorded biographical data at the time of Annie's admission to Eloise Hospital. The other three came from the end-they documented Annie's move to Northville in January 1972 and, after several months of evaluation, her transfer to a nursing home in Detroit. The final page recorded the nursing home's call to Northville on August 7, 1972, to report that Annie had died.

With my newspaper deadline looming, I could do little more than scan the pages. In May 1972, a social worker and a doctor at Northville, preparing for Annie's transfer to the nursing home, had summarized her history, her condition, and her chances for improvement. More than thirty years in institutions, compressed to fewer than a dozen paragraphs. The phrases, each more eye-opening than the last, flew by like a high-speed ticker tape: "52-year-old female patient ... born with congenital leg deformity ... leg amputated when she was 17 ... attended special schools ... although retarded, was an outgoing bubbling person ... about a year before hospitalization, she became withdrawn, seclusive, dependent ... patient's mother felt somewhat guilty about patient's illness and related that the sins of the parents are paid for through their children."

I put the pages down, aware that I was trying to catch my breath. "Sins of the parents"? Was this just an expression of my grandmother's guilt, or did this refer to some sin in particular? Almost reluctantly, my eyes went back to the doctor's notes, and his concluding words: "Patient has had no visitors in years ... she remains being incoherent and irrelevant much of the time ... final diagnosis (1) Mental Deficiency (moderate); (a) Schizophrenia (Chronic) Undifferentiated Type ..."

Too much to absorb. Too much, too fast. And more on the way: My Michigan contact informed me that she had several other pages from 1940 to send, but the photocopies had turned too dark to be readable if she faxed them. She would mail those. Fine with me. I needed time to think about what I had just read.


Excerpted from ANNIE'S GHOSTS by Steve Luxenberg Copyright © 2009 by Steve Luxenberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


PROLOGUE: Spring 1995....................1
ONE: Spring 2000....................9
TWO: Looking for Mom....................27
THREE: The Rosetta Stone....................41
FOUR: Unlocking the Door....................57
FIVE: Missing Pieces....................73
SIX: Actually Insane....................91
SEVEN: Welcome to Eloise....................107
EIGHT: I Am Family....................125
NINE: Lost and Found....................141
TEN: Castles in the Air....................157
ELEVEN: The Old Neighborhood....................175
TWELVE: The Cigar Laborer....................191
THIRTEEN: Invisible....................209
FOURTEEN: One of the Thousands....................227
FIFTEEN: The Ghosts of Radziwillow....................247
SIXTEEN: Abandoned....................265
SEVENTEEN: Dad's Secret....................281
EIGHTEEN: Uncontoured Ills....................299
NINETEEN: Always the Bridesmaid....................317
TWENTY: Reinterpretation....................333
AUTHOR'S NOTE....................363
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 44 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013


    ANNIE'S GHOST is a true account about a son who who discovers after his mother's death that she had a sister her children never knew about. The son's investigative search tries to found out about Annie and why his mother lied about never having a sister and what affect that lie had on his mother, the family, and friends. This excellent book reads like a novel. The author includes historical information which tries to explain why people acted as they did. It's a satisfying book which leaves the reader thinking about people's choices.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good story

    The family mystery is very intriguing. The author throws in a lot of other facts and little tidbits of information which don't necessarily have anything to do with the story of Annie, and could easily have been left out. He made some of these add-ons quite lenghty, which made the book boring at times. Overall, I enjoyed the story of Annie immensely, and you really start to feel for this person. Would recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    I didnt care for this book,more like textbook reading

    This book was well written,but kept reverting back to insignificant characters,dates and facts pertaining to assylums.I was hoping the dulldrum of reading was going to lead to a significant and unusual ending.It did not.Very disapointed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Compelling and touching journey to uncover a family secret.

    Mr. Luxenberg has thoroughly researched every facet of his family's history in his quest to learn more about his deceased mother and the secret she took to her grave. Simultaneously, this book reads like a novel, a revealing history of mental illness treatment in the U.S., a memoir of WWII-era European-Americans, and a compassionate look at the interior lives of this professional writer's ancestors. I was totally absorbed from start to finish, drawn in by Mr. Luxenberg's detailed fact-finding and his unwillingness to give up his search for the truth. I am fortunate to have found an advance copy three months prior to its publication.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Sons and mothers it's complicated

    I only finished the book because it was this year's Michigan Reads selection and I agreed to attend a discussion. The book is rather like a "good, not great" movie that is 1/2 an hour too long. In part it appears that the author was "working out" his (rather late in life) realization that his mother had a part of her existence that did not totally revolve around her children. While the details of the bureaucratic obstacles represented new, albeit not surprising information, the author's petulance about them was palpable. It was not surprising at all to me that his mother chose not to subject herself to his inquisition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2014

    This book was part mystery, part memoir and part history.  It he

    This book was part mystery, part memoir and part history.  It held my interest from beginning to end.  The author related his very personal story in an unbiased and non judge-mental way.  Would recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013


    Pads in quickly

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Excellent investigative writing!

    I enjoyed the story from start to finish, and it was made all the better by the writer's excellent style. It was fascinating to read about the stigma of mental illness in the early 20th century; this book came along at a time when I had just been told of an uncle in his 70s whom I never new existed. Astounding.

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  • Posted March 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Book!

    I loved it and could hardly put it down. We have a few "ghosts" in the family, so I could relate to Steve's quest. I recommend this book to anyone interested in family history and finding the truth in your family tree.

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  • Posted February 5, 2011

    Page turner

    I found this book to be very interesting and informative. The authors research in finding his missing Aunt is excellent. Makes you wonder if your family has any hidden secrets. The location of this book is local to me and I found that to be especially interesting. Excellent read from beginning to end

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  • Posted January 20, 2011

    where is my aunt?

    what a poignant and touching story. as the author works to give voice to a forgotten small voice Annie. he validates her life and the lives of thousands of unheard voices from a time when mental heallth truly sucked

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2010

    absorbing treatment of a sad way of treating people

    quick read and fascinating detail about research

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  • Posted February 7, 2010

    Annie's Ghosts Review

    I admire Steve Luxenberg for his research diligence even if his purpose was both personal and professional. The book offers lots of information about the institutional setting from 1930's to 1980's which is interesting but Mr. Luxenberg's writing also takes on an institutional quality. I think he tried too hard to write as an observer doing a newspaper story rather than from his inner heart, being personally involved as a nephew who discovers the existence of his aunt, he had no knowledge of because of his mom's shocking "cover up". It is too drawn-out for my taste but still I enjoyed reading it.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010


    His research is his story. This is a great read for anyone who has tried to track down information on a family member. Also, since Eloise is local to me, I found information on it enlightening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2010


    As a Michigan ex-pat, this book was a real eye opener. I grew up in the 50's close to a family that had a daughter with eerily similar mental disabilities. This family was "counselled" to put the girl in a facility, put her away, more or less like Annie. They opted for her to live in their family, in our neighborhood, and we were all richer for the contact.
    I'm not sure we've grown much in handling mental illness or mental disabilities, but the past surely is a sad remembrance. Annie's sister, the author's mother, should be an example to us all on how not to live our lives, hiding whatever skeletons we perceive to own.

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  • Posted November 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Book You Won't Forget!

    "Though we share so many secrets
    There are some we never tell"

    The Stranger by Billy Joel

    When journalist Steve Luxenberg discovers after his mother's death that she was not an only child, bur rather had a physically and mentally disabled sister, Annie, he embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind his mother's secret. What he discovers is a societal and legal system that for decades sequestered the mentally ill and disabled into institutions - leaving behind few traces of the person institutionalized. And on a personal level, he gains insight into his mother's abandonment of Annie. Luxenburg surmises that his mother felt compelled to keep her sister's existence a secret because at that time (the 30's - 40's) "psychiatry was a long way from curing the seriously ill; and . . . genetics [were believed to] be a factor."

    Although Luxenberg's quest does not uncover all the answers to his questions he expresses overall satisfaction with the results. He reflects that "my search has allowed me to achieve a freedom of my own: free to see my mother as she was, free to embrace her flaws and accept her choices, free to put aside, once and for all, [and] the pain of not being able to help her . . ."

    Annie's Ghosts is a fascinating detective story/memoir of one son's determination to understand.

    Publisher: Hyperion (May 5, 2009)
    Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the publisher and FSB Associates.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent story of discovering a family secret long suppressed.

    Great reading for anyone interested in genealogy, family history or finding a skeleton in the family closet and lets face it we all have a few of those. The author delves into mental illness and how it was diagnosed and treated in the 1940's or misdiagnosed at times. I found the book easily read and followed. No confusion between the various characters. Though the pacing was good the last few chapters did seem to move slowly. however I did appreciate the intense research that no doubt went into the creation of the book. My hats off to the designer of the book jacket the color and illustration drew me like a magnet to it.

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  • Posted July 22, 2009

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    A compelling story

    Steve Luxenberg always knew his mother was an only child, just as he knew her name was Beth. He and his siblings are shocked when his mother mentions, during a routine medical history, a younger sister who was sent away. After his mother's death, Luxenberg begins to investigate the story of the sister and why his mother had kept Annie a secret all that time.

    Annie's Ghosts is an absolutely fantastic book! I was so drawn into the story that I finished reading it in two days, picking it up every time my daughter took a nap. The story of the secret sister is compelling and Luxenberg is a wonderful story teller. His journalistic background is evident as he documented all his research and was clearly able to put people at ease and draw out their memories while influencing them as little as possible.

    Luxenberg weaves his personal search for information about his aunt in with the history of mental health care in Michigan during the time when his mother and aunt were growing up. His research connects him to relatives that he didn't realize existed and reconnects him with some of his mother's childhood friends. In attempting to gain as much information as possible about his aunt's life in a large mental institution near Detroit, he faces many roadblocks including needing to gain legal authority to access the records and then finding out that many of those records had been destroyed.

    Luxenberg often ponders his mother's motives for keeping her sister a secret and wonders how containing that secret for so long affected her. With most of the principal characters in the story already dead, it is likely that he will never find definitive answers to his many questions. However while this story certainly started out as a personal family quest, Luxenberg expands his scope to revealing the lives of so many like Annie who were sent away, lost and forgotten.

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  • Posted June 11, 2009

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    Family Secrets

    Annie's Ghost is a story about uncovering family secrets and accepting that we don't always know everything about our loved one's past. In this book, Luxenberg writes about his mother's secret- she was not an only child, as she had always claimed. After her death, the family discovers she had a disabled sister who was institutionalized in her early 20's. Luxenberg chronicles his families efforts to discover and come to terms with this truth.

    I received an Early Reviewer's Copy of this book, and struggled to finish it- although admittedly, I am in the minority of reviewers that feels this way. Initially, I was intrigued by the storyline, but quickly lost interest, because the author spends most of the time describing, what seemed to be, every investigative phone call and conversation, instead of writing about the major events. I felt Luxenburg did not tell me enough about Annie, so I didn't get a sense of who she was. This book deals with the families experience as they come to the realization that their mother was not completely truthful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2009

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    What do we know about our history?

    Like most people, I assume that I know my parents. That they stories they have told me about their past are fairly all-inclusive, and that the stuff they have left out is irrelevant at best. It is easy to forget that they were people long before they were parents, that they had their share of trials and tribulations, and that I didn't come into the picture until most of their struggles had subsided. After reading Annie's Ghosts, I realized that perhaps the most important parts of my parents' pre-parental existence may very well have been the ones they chose to omit from their own personal narratives. I only know the condensed version, the PG version that was cleaned up for my child's brain and never updated when I became an adult.

    Annie's Ghosts is the story of one family's hidden history. A few years prior to his mother's death, Steve Luxenberg discovers a skeleton in her closet. Beth, a self-professed 'only child,' had a younger sister. As the story goes, the child had been mentally ill and institutionalized when Beth was only four years old. Because of his mother's declining health, both mental and physical, Steve and his siblings decide not to press her about the rumor. She passes away in August 1999, unaware that her children have discovered her long-buried secret, and therefore without divulging any information to them.

    After his mother's death, a strange new fact is presented. Beth's sister, Annie, had not been institutionalized as a young child but as a young woman of almost 21 years old. And Beth had been 23. However, no one in Steven's family had known that the sister had even existed. He wonders how and why his mother perpetrated the secret, and begins to dig deeper into his family's history.

    What he uncovers is a maze of information that seems to add questions rather than answer them. (What was his mother's REAL name? Were his grandparents first cousins? Did his father know about Annie? Why did his father end up in a military psych hospital?) In a journey through a different (though recent) generation, we follow Steve's family through the holocaust and emigration to America. We also get a taste of the mental health care system that was in its infancy in this nation during the '40s, and follow its evolution through to the present day.

    While many of the questions that are posed throughout the book are inevitably unanswered (a great many of the people who knew about Annie's existence are deceased by the time Steve's research begins), it is still a satisfying, four star read. It begs the question, "What do any of us really know about our family history?" It is also a shocking look into the way mentally and physically ill people were treated in this country as recently as 50 years ago. While we can't change the past, shedding light on some of the dark times in our history may certainly prevent them from repeating themselves

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