Bending Toward the Sun

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Overview

A miraculous lesson in courage and recovery, Bending Toward the Sun tells the story of a unique family bond forged in the wake of brutal terror. Weaving together the voices of three generations of women, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie, provide powerful—and inspiring—evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, relevant to every culture in every corner of the world. By turns unimaginably devastating and incredibly uplifting, this firsthand account of survival and psychological healing offers a ...

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Overview

A miraculous lesson in courage and recovery, Bending Toward the Sun tells the story of a unique family bond forged in the wake of brutal terror. Weaving together the voices of three generations of women, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie, provide powerful—and inspiring—evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, relevant to every culture in every corner of the world. By turns unimaginably devastating and incredibly uplifting, this firsthand account of survival and psychological healing offers a strong, poignant message of hope in our own uncertain times.

Rita Lurie was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic, subsisting on scraps of raw food. Young Rita watched helplessly as first her younger brother then her mother died before her eyes. Motherless and stateless, Rita and her surviving family spent the next five years wandering throughout Europe, waiting for a country to accept them. The tragedy of the Holocaust was only the beginning of Rita's story.

Decades later, Rita, now a mother herself, is the matriarch of a close-knit family in California. Yet in addition to love, Rita unknowingly passes to her children feelings of fear, apprehension, and guilt. Her daughter Leslie, an accomplished lawyer, media executive, and philanthropist, began probing the traumatic events of her mother's childhood to discover how Rita's pain has affected not only Leslie's life and outlook but also her own daughter, Mikaela's.

A decade-long collaboration between mother and daughter, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust remains in the hearts and minds of survivors, influencing even the lives of their descendants. It also sheds light on the generational reach of any trauma, beyond the initial victim. Drawing on interviews with the other survivors and with the Polish family who hid five-year-old Rita, this book brings together the stories of three generations of women—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—to understand the legacy that unites, inspires, and haunts them all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The lasting impact of the Holocaust on a survivor and her daughter emerges in this joint account by Lurie-Gilbert and her mother. Lurie was five when a farmer agreed to hide her along with 14 Polish-Jewish relatives in his attic in exchange for jewelry and furs. While in hiding, Lurie witnessed the Nazis shoot a cousin and an uncle; her younger brother and mother died in the stifling, stinking hideout (years later her daughter, Gilbert-Lurie, wonders if the boy was smothered to quiet him and if her grandmother died of a broken heart). After the war, in an Italian DP camp, Lurie's father remarried to a stepmother Lurie resented; her father became increasingly depressed and remote when their fractured and traumatized family relocated to Chicago; and deep depressions haunted Lurie's own otherwise happy marriage. Gilbert-Lurie in turn recalls her mother's overprotectiveness, her career as a TV executive, a 1988 visit to her mother's childhood village and her own guilt, anxiety and sadness. Although the voices and experiences expressed are valuable, the writing is adequate at best, with none of the luminosity of Anne Frank, to whom Gilbert-Lurie compares her mother. Photos. (Sept. 1)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Los Angeles County Board of Education president Gilbert-Lurie teams with her mother in this occasionally unwieldy yet affecting memoir depicting how the deep psychological wounds from the Holocaust span three generations. The first and most vivid section is told in the voice of Rita Lurie, nee Ruchel Gamss, born in Urzejowice, Poland, to a family of Jews caught in the terrors of the Nazi invasion during World War II. By 1942 the Germans had occupied their remote town, and five-year-old Rita and her family were required to report to the train station for deportation. They split into groups to elude capture and persuaded a neighboring Polish farmer to harbor the group in their attic. Everyone believed the refuge was temporary, though they managed to hide out for two years-but not without casualties. Rita's toddler brother died, possibly from suffocation to keep him from crying, and Rita's mother died shortly thereafter. After liberation, they spent five years in displaced-persons camps, during which Rita's father remarried an Auschwitz survivor. The remaining Gamss family immigrated to America in 1949. Rita suffered from physical weakness and mental anguish for years, and her subsequent account records her painful attempts to come to terms with debilitating feelings of abandonment and anger at her controlling stepmother. In the second section of the book, her eldest daughter recalls growing up with her anxious mother and her own fears and the drive to succeed. Gilbert-Lurie's narrative is unavoidably less dramatic, except when she and her cousins returned to Poland in 1987 with a film crew to seek out the still-living Polish farmwife who hid the Jews. The third section, which introduces theauthor's daughter into the narrative, is more tedious, but the essential story remains riveting. A flawed memoir, but an amazing story of wartime survival. Agent: Larry Kirshbaum/LJK Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061734762
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

A writer, lawyer, and former executive at NBC, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie is a member and former president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education and a teacher of Holocaust studies. A founding board member and past president of the nonprofit Alliance for Children's Rights, she has worked at a major Los Angeles law firm, served as a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals law clerk, and is a member of the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including the Los Angeles Music Center. Recently Leslie was appointed by the mayor of Los Angeles to a panel to devise a new cultural plan for the city. She is a recipient of the American Jewish Congress's Tzedek Award for Outstanding Commitment to Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and Justice, and the Alliance for Children's Rights Child Advocate of the Year Award. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, two children, and stepson.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 24, 2010

    Review of Bending Toward the Sun

    I received this book from FSB Media in exchange for my review.

    I normally try to steer clear of historical recounts, but when I read the summary for Bending Toward the Sun on the FSB Media website, it intrigued me. ?To actually read about what occurred to an actual survivor of a terrible historical event and how it affected her future generations was something I couldn't pass up ... and I'm glad I didn't.

    We've all heard of the story of Anne Frank when we were in school. While terrifying, her story has lost its affect on me. This book has restored my awe of the horrific events of the Holocaust. To live through a time where a leader as powerfully evil as Hitler is beyond my imagination. Although anything is possible and something like that COULD happen again ... it's hard to picture it actually taking place.

    Reading the accounts of three generations of women who are either directly or inadvertently affected by the Holocaust has been enlightening. Even though Leslie and her daughter, Mikaela, were not alive during the time of the Holocaust, they have been genetically disposed to the fear with which Rita now lives her life. I began to wonder ... "How many generations is it going to take until an offspring is born in their family without a fear of life?"

    Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yes, there are evil people who will use others' differences for their own personal selfish gain. While I understand the fear Rita has acquired concerning living, I don't understand how a person could let that fear control them every day. My not understanding undoubtedly lies in the fact that I've not lived through a horrific event parallel to the Holocaust. Or, in the fact that my immediate family has never lived through such an event.

    In essence, this book has opened my eyes and given me a deeper look into and a deeper understanding of the Holocaust victims. It has also reaffirmed my belief that we should never judge a person by how they look on the outside. We should treat EVERYONE, no matter the race, color or religion, with respect because we never know what they've been through or what they're currently going through.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Captivating

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was very interesting to read how the mother's experience of living and suffering through the Holocaust eventually have an effect on how she parents her daughter and how her daughter parents the granddaughter. It is a true story of courage and survival.

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  • Posted September 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Great Memoir

    Bending Toward the Sun is a mother and daughter memoir by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie. It covers both of their lives and how the Holocaust has made such a significant impact on them and on their future generation. The first part features Rita's story, from hiding in a cramped attic with her family during the War to her years in America struggling with her past and growing up without a real mother. The second part of the book, covers Leslie's life, who tries very hard to please her mother, but at the same time, tries to understand what her mother went through and realizes that Rita's painful past has somehow affected the outlook on life to Leslie, and also onto Leslie's daughter Mikaela.

    I thought it was an excellent memoir. Not only do you get to read the stories of two very strong willed women but there's a clear concise narration to it that actually makes the memoir very interesting and before you knew it, you were already at the end. It was a very interesting look into their lives and how the Holocaust had made such an impact on their daily routines, how they thought, how they acted, and how strongly attached they were as a family unit. I especially liked Rita's strength and her determination to be a very good mother to her children. Considering since she never really had a mother to begin with, she made an extreme effort to be loving and to give her children the childhood she never had when she was young. I thought it was very admirable and a very strong trait in her. Leslie also follows in her footsteps and tries to become a very good mother, but also it seems she has to please her mother as well, which can become extremely difficult as you see Leslie trying to struggle with it.

    The book shows how slow psychological healing and with facing the past and its' ghosts, it could go a long way into healing some wounds that have never had the chance of healing properly. I felt a lot for Rita, who really had no one to turn to, and to confide in, while she was in her teenage years. It truly seemed as if she was really alone in the world but again, as I said, it's very admiring how she managed to be determined to pick herself up on her feet to live her life the way she wants. Although I really had no love for Clara even though she survived through a lot of pain and misery I can't help but dislike her for her treatment towards Rita. It certainly didn't help Rita much during her childhood. Towards the end however, I felt ambivalent towards her especially when she says her point of view of things. It was hard to believe who was telling the truth or if Rita had selective memory.

    I have to admit, this book actually drove me to tears at the end. The letter Leslie and her sister writes to their Grandmother is very touching and although they never had a chance to meet her, is filled with love and provides some sort of closure like this book provides closure to their mother.

    Overall a wonderful touching memoir about the impact the Holocaust has on its' victims and their children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2009

    A profound and moving memoir

    I read many books, memoirs in particular, but I have never reviewed one. For Bending Toward the Sun, I make an exception, as I found this book to be deeply moving, profound, and in some small way, life changing.

    This mother/daughter memoir begins by chronicling Rita Lurie's (Ruchel's) harrowing journey through her Anne Frank-like hiding during the holocaust -- only this one with a happier ending. Her story is at once horrifying and beautiful as it documents man's potential for inhumanity, and at the same time, the courage and perseverance of the human spirit.

    I was particularly moved by how someone who bore witness to such random inhumanity at such a young and formative age (including watching her mother die in hiding just months before their liberation) and then went on to suffer more abuse in the confusion and craziness of the post war years, could still managed to pull her life together and find enough courage and love in her heart to build and sustain a successful marriage and loving tight knit family. We live in a world where people constantly attribute bad behavior to unfortunate childhood experiences. Yet, here is a woman who leaves a boatload of hatred and insanity behind to build a productive, beautiful life.

    In the next section of the book, Gilbert-Lurie explores how her mother's legacy of trauma and suffering was inadvertently passed down to her, and became her own cross to bear. Gilbert-Lurie, the memoir's lead author, took on what seems to be the Herculean task of writing not only about her mother's survival of the Holocaust, but about how, despite her mother's best intentions, a legacy of fear and anxiety was passed down to her children.

    Gilbert-Lurie is obviously an extremely functioning and accomplished woman. And yet, she turns herself inside out, to reveal to a world of strangers, the irrational fears and anxieties that have been, from birth, as much a part of her as any other of her god-given traits.

    The author also makes the point that inheriting the trauma of the previous generation is not unique to the holocaust. And that our world is filled with individuals who struggle to over come the side-effects of hardships they never lived.

    I found the book to be riveting, and emotionally compelling. And above all, I found it to transcend the specificity of one family's story, in it's successful attempt to make a universal point about the human family, and the wounds we each carry, every day, that we've unknowingly borrowed from our loved ones.

    A must read.

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  • Posted September 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    3 stars

    I had a hard time getting into this book at first. The book is divided into three parts, the mother's story, the daughter's story (the author), and then the collaboration to writing this memoir. The first part is in italics and I found that distracting for awhile. But I put the book away for a few days and then started back up again. Much better this time.
    The first part details Ruchel's (Rita) family during WWII, hiding in the attic of a friend for two years to avoid discovery by the Nazis. Rita's mother and baby brother do not survive as well as some other family members. After the Russians chase out the Germans, they return to there home but then must leave due to hostility still prevalent towards the Jews. They make their way through eastern Europe and finally to Italy. Rita's father remarries to a woman that does not want two step-daughters and Rita grows up feeling unloved as her family then moves to Brooklyn and finally Chicago. Rita marries and moves to Los Angeles and has a daughter Leslie. And this starts the second part. Between Rita's depression and her striving to be a great mother, she is incredibly overprotective of Leslie and her other children. Leslie was unusually fearful during her childhood and that leads to the third part.
    Leslie sees her own daughter, Mikaela, growing up to be as fearful as she was. This leads Leslie to look into the transmission of trauma from parents to children so that she can better understand what Mikaela is going through and help her. This is done by looking into her mother's past and discovering how the events effected Rita, Leslie and Mikaela.
    This was an interesting take on a Holocaust memoir, mostly focusing on on not the events themselves, but the results. I really liked the idea, but the writing seemed inexperienced and was not able to hold my attention for long periods of time. But it was an important story to be told.
    http://bookmagic418.blogspot.com/

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    Posted November 11, 2009

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