“Home has always been elsewhere, packed in a bag; and that is pretty much the story of my life.” Like a gale at her back, history propelled Julia Israel Schueler early in life on a westward course. She was born in Moscow in 1923 and at the age of three months was exiled with her parents and other Mensheviks to Berlin. Twice more “The Group” was displacedto Paris in 1933 as Adolf Hitler intensified the persecution of political opponents, and to the United States, via Spain and Lisbon, when he invaded France in 1940. Elsewhere is Schueler’s life memoir, an adventure, coming-of-age, and coming-to-America story all in one. Against the gripping backdrop of major twentieth-century events, she tells in lyrical prose her remarkable personal tale of immigration and acculturation, and the ongoing search for an elusive home “elsewhere.”
Schueler revisits memories of school days in Germany; streets blood-stained from an early version of Kristallnachtand the admonishment “You saw nothing”; nostalgia for socialist songs of youth; reading banned books by Balzac and Zola; a wardrobe of cast-off, made-over clothes; the shock of seeing Paris in blackout; scenes of civil war–ravaged Spain; tears of guilt in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 1940; and much more. She introduces a parade of intriguing individuals, including her imaginative, romantic schoolmate Vivi, the niece of Leon Trotsky; Mr. Wittenberg, a close family acquaintance who spoke Esperanto; Dina, the daring young friend who ran away to become a model for the sculptor Aristide Maillol; and refugees from Stalinist gulags and German concentration camps.
With touching and comic nuance, she conveys the ties that bind language to survival, identity, experience, and social acceptance and condemnation. She recalls the weeping and fist-shaking amid mysterious Russian in her family’s kitchen, her heartbroken whispers in forbidden German to her teddy bear, and her resolve during the voyage to America to act as French ambassador to the New World. She gives a delectable recounting of her first day of school in Paris, the nasal vowels and swallowed consonants of the strange language flowing over her in a bath of bewilderment.
As associations prompt her, Schueler breaks off the thread of her narrative to ponder later eventsfor example, visiting her married daughter in Morocco; trips to Russia and China; and breast cancer’s lessons in both the curtailment and deepening of vitality. Thus, in aptly wandering style, she comes full circle in her telling, often closing the gaps in early recollections with insights gained years afterward.
Elsewhere will draw readers into a delightful intimacy with the author as they follow her suspenseful passage from impressionable childhood through vibrant youth to graceful maturity, to finding home at last in New Orleans.
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