Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knew

Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knew

by Suzanne Berne
     
 

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Even as a child, Suzanne Berne understood the source of her father’s terrible melancholy: he’d lost his mother when he was a little boy. Decades later, with her father now elderly and ailing, she decides to try to uncover the woman who continues to haunt him.

Every family has a missing person, someone who died young or disappeared, leaving a… See more details below

Overview

Even as a child, Suzanne Berne understood the source of her father’s terrible melancholy: he’d lost his mother when he was a little boy. Decades later, with her father now elderly and ailing, she decides to try to uncover the woman who continues to haunt him.

Every family has a missing person, someone who died young or disappeared, leaving a legacy of loss. Aided by vintage photographs and a box of old keepsakes, Berne sets out to fill in her grandmother’s silhouette and along the way uncovers her own foothold in American history.

Lucile Berne, née Kroger, was a daughter of Bernard Henry Kroger, the archetypal American self-made man, who at twenty-three established what is today’s $76 billion grocery enterprise. From her turn-of-the-century Cincinnati childhood to her college years at Wellesley, her tenure as treasurer of her father’s huge company, her stint as a relief worker in devastated France, her marriage to a professional singer, and the elusive, unhappy wealthy young matron she became, Lucile both illustrates and contradicts her times.

In the process of creating this portrait, Berne discovers the function of family history: “to explain what is essentially inexplicable—how we came to be ourselves.”

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Orange Prize–winning novelist Berne (The Ghost at the Table, 2006, etc.) shapes a lovely, melancholic biography of her grandmother, despite modest background information.

Because her grandmother left little behind when she died in 1932, the author admits to feeling at times like she is writing a ghost story. "I have to do a little historical tap dancing," writes Berne, and she has a suave way of going about the process. It helps that she writes with polish and insight: "bereavement, like passion, has no proper notion of scale, and what form it takes depends mostly on the character of the mourner." That bereavement was nurtured by her father, who lost his mother—Lucile Kroger Berne, daughter of the Cincinnati supermarket king—when he was six. With this biography, the author tenders a well-turned portrait of him as well—restless, irritable, charming, sympathetic, envious. Berne worked with what was available, including a few diaries and photo albums, but her greatest asset was Lucile's milieu. Cincinnati at the turn of the century was a memorable place, and the rise of the Kroger supermarket empire becomes a satisfying rags-to-riches story in Berne's capable hands. Lucile played a role in the creation of that empire, only to be shunted aside when her brothers returned from war. In addition to archival resources, the author taps the acumen of Susan Sontag, Ambrose Bierce, Virginia Woolf and others, rendering Lucile as a significant presence on the Wellesley College campus, where she matriculated, and during the year she spent in France helping knit the country together after World War I. Photographs from Lucile's albums provide further context to her life.

A lyrical character sketch, vivid even through the smoky glass of time.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616200312
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
10/12/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
952,512
File size:
6 MB

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