A Family of Strangers

A Family of Strangers

by Deborah Tall
     
 

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“Without self-absorption, Tall traces the self’s emergence in a place which she recognized from the start as her testing place.”—Seamus Heaney
 
“In the literature of place, Deborah Tall’s book stands out for its delicacy, range of learning, and refreshing frankness.”—Phillip Lopate
 
In her

Overview

“Without self-absorption, Tall traces the self’s emergence in a place which she recognized from the start as her testing place.”—Seamus Heaney
 
“In the literature of place, Deborah Tall’s book stands out for its delicacy, range of learning, and refreshing frankness.”—Phillip Lopate
 
In her third book of nonfiction, Deborah Tall explores the genealogy of the missing. Haunted by her orphaned father’s abandonment by his extended family, his secretive, walled-off trauma and absent history, she sets off in pursuit of the family he claims not to have. From the dutiful happiness of Levittown in the 1950s to a stricken former shtetl in Ukraine, we follow Tall’s journey through evasions and lies. Reflecting on family secrecy, postwar American culture, and the urge for roots, Tall’s search uncovers not just a missing family but an understanding of the part family and history play in identity. A Family of Strangers is Tall’s life’s work, told in such exacting, elegant language that the suppressed past vividly asserts its place in the present.

Deborah Tall is the author of four books of poems, most recently Summons, published by Sarabande Books after Charles Simic chose it for the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. She has also published two previous two books of nonfiction, The Island of the White Cow: Memories of an Irish Island and From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place, and co-edited the anthology The Poet's Notebook with Stephen Kuusisto and David Weiss. Tall has taught writing and literature at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and edited its literary journal, Seneca Review, since 1982. She lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband David Weiss and their two daughters.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tall, poet and editor of the Seneca Review, has long championed a form called the lyric essay, which employs the associative movement and lyrical suggestiveness of poetry while also maintaining the familiar narrative structures and conventional organization of prose. In a singular extended work in this form, Tall (Summons) constructs a powerful account of her search for the origins of her Ukrainian Jewish family; her parents and other relatives emigrated to the U.S. around WWII and proceeded to disavow their past in an effort to overcome traumatic memories of pogroms and Nazi genocide. Throughout her upbringing, Tall's parents maintained a strict, if suspicious, silence about their relatives and lives before emigrating, leaving Tall, now a wife and mother of two daughters, desperate for information about her family history. In short chapters bearing repeated titles ("Anatomy of Secrecy," "The Dream of Family"), Tall movingly traces her genealogical quest, which leads her to the discovery of her family's pre-Ellis Island name (Talesnick), the revelation of a forgotten uncle abandoned to a mental institution and, finally, a meeting with her family's last ailing matriarch near Ladyzin, Ukraine. This deeply affecting account offers new formal avenues for memoir while providing a necessary piece of the ever-unfolding puzzle of 20th-century Jewish diaspora. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Interestingly, this unique memoir reads like an essay, simultaneously lyrical and hard-hitting. Tall (writing & literature, Hobart & William Smith Colls.; Summons) is evidently a poet and her prose reads like poetry but she also possesses a practicality that is direct, organized, investigative, and concise. Her goal is to find her immigrant Jewish family's beginnings and its ensuing history long shrouded in mystery and silence in Ukraine. Her father's success as an engineer working in classified defense for the government reinforced the family's need for secrecy. But for Tall, the weight of secrecy had to be lifted; hence, she began her genealogical study, uncovering her original family name of Talesnick and place of origin (Ladyzin, near Odessa an area documented for its widespread pogroms against the Jews) and learning more of her orphaned father and a few remaining relatives, including an institutionalized uncle. She also finds the graves of her grandparents, whose photographed faces sealed in marker that had been smashed were gone, rubbed out; identity obscured, but not forgotten. Tall's efforts were redemptive, leading to this magnanimous work. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781932511444
Publisher:
Sarabande Books
Publication date:
11/01/2006
Pages:
260
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Tall is the editor of the Seneca Review and has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges since 1982. Tall is the author of three previous books of poems (most recently Summons from Sarabande), and two books of nonfiction: The Island of the White Cow and From Where We Stand. She lives in Ithaca, New York.

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