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Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story

Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story

by Joy Horowitz

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A touching story of two Jewish grandmothers—Tessie and Pearlie—who share their wisdom, knowledge, and recipes to die for.

In their touching story, two Jewish grandmothers—Tessie and Pearlie—share their wisdom, knowledge, and recipes to die for. Still close to their immigrant past and hardened by wars, the Depression, and discrimination,


A touching story of two Jewish grandmothers—Tessie and Pearlie—who share their wisdom, knowledge, and recipes to die for.

In their touching story, two Jewish grandmothers—Tessie and Pearlie—share their wisdom, knowledge, and recipes to die for. Still close to their immigrant past and hardened by wars, the Depression, and discrimination, they teach us about living. And dying. They are the last of a breed—a generation passing but not likely to be forgotten.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this powerful memoir overflowing with warmth and humor, Horowitz, a freelance journalist, illuminates the lives of her two bubbes (Yiddish for "grandmothers"). Over the course of 18 months, she interviewed Pearlie, her mother's 93-year-old mother, in Santa Monica, Calif., and 94-year-old Tessie, her father's mother, in Queens, N.Y. Both women live alone and share an immigrant past and the physical impairments of old age; their personalities are very different. An orthodox Jew, Tessie boycotted Horowitz's wedding to a gentile, does not fear death, advocates a pragmatic approach to life and is a dynamite gin player. The more emotional Pearlie loves to dance, is still a great cook, wants to go on living and believes that religion is in the heart. Horowitz intersperses her grandmothers' accounts of their childhood poverty and reminiscences of love, sex and childbirth and her own struggle to come to terms with her dying father's lung cancer and her yearning for a spiritual comfort that she receives, in part, from talking to Tessie and Pearlie, "the smartest women I know." Photos. (June)
Ilene Cooper
Horowitz chronicles a dying breed. Through narratives, letters, photographs, and recipes, she looks at the lives of her two Jewish grandmothers, each 93 years old. Stereotypes are based on something, and Tessie and Pearlie are quintessential Jewish mothers, worried about their children, pushing food as cure-alls, looking for threats against family and religion under every bed. But that's not all these women are. They are also stoic, wise, able to roll with the punches, and most of all, still involved with life. In telling her grandmothers' stories, Horowitz, a magazine writer, documents an era in which women stifled their own ambitions for the good of their families, learned about menstruation, sex, and menopause from their own experiences, and tried to reconcile strict religious beliefs with living in a modern society. Sociology aside, however, the stars are definitely Tessie and Pearlie themselves. Adorable, annoying, their conversations peppered with witticisms and Yiddish phrases, these two may be convinced that death is final, but on these pages, they've attained a bit of immortality after all.
Kirkus Reviews
This is a tale of two bubbes, or Jewish grandmothers, two ordinary women who have both arrived at the age of 93, only to be torn between their love of life and their knowledge that death is imminent.

Tessie, Horowitz's paternal grandmother, and Pearlie, her maternal bubbe, seem at first like typical, indeed stereotypical, Jewish grandmothers. Alternately cute and irritating, they share homely wisdom and recipes for stuffed cabbage and matzoh balls, and their life stories—from immigrant to young married, working to help support the family, widowhood—are not as original as Horowitz seems to think. But as the narrative progressess, Pearlie's and Tessie's inner strengths emerge, and the very ordinariness of their difficult lives creates a solid link for readers to hold on to. Pearlie has outlived her son, Steve, who died in his 50s of a heart attack (and to whom she continues to write letters). Tessie, too, may outlive her son; Horowitz's father is being treated for mesothelioma, a usually fatal lung cancer. Pearlie still carries the shame of her husband Moe's drinking ("Waves of anger alternate with the impulse to cover up for him," Horowitz writes). And Tessie literally held her mother in her own arms when the older women died at home. Despite the joy they take in their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, both women are left wondering why they are still alive when so many whom they have loved are gone. But live they do: Pearlie, until recently, performed with a dancing group called the Dolls; Tessie is a fierce player of gin rummy. Horowitz emphasizes their different personalities: Pearlie is generous in expressing her love of family and of life. Tessie is more stoic; she is stunned when Horowitz says she should tell her ailing son she loves him—she assumes it's understood.

In her portraits of these two very human women, Horowitz has written a loving tribute to the power of sheer survival and the wisdom that derives from it.

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Meet the Author

Joy Horowitz is a freelance journalist and former staff writer for The Los Angeles Times. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Magazine, and many other national publications. She graduated Harvard cum laude in 1975 and worked as a copy girl, sports writer, and investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

After stints as an investigative producer at the local CBS-TV news station in LA and feature writer at The Los Angeles Times, she received a masters degree in Studies of Law (MSL) degree from Yale Law School in 1982.

She has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her reporting on indoor air pollution for The Los Angeles Times, and Sunday Magazine Editors' Association award for her Los Angeles Times magazine article "Greetings from Pearlie and Tessie," which was the basis for her 1996 book, "Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story." In 2007, her second book, Parts Per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School, was published and led to her being honored as an "environmental hero" in 2008 by the Environmental Relief Center in Los Angeles. That same year, she received an environmental journalism fellowship to study at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Joy now lives with her husband and children and dog in Santa Monica, California.

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