My mother before me
Four compelling stories of mothers and daughters center on secrets revealed and secrets kept, with powerful consequences that reverberate through the years.
A wealth of history turns Wunderland into a novel that’s both beautiful and devastating. Author Jennifer Cody Epstein (The Painter From Shanghai ) taps into the 1930s prewar era, laying out an unsparing narrative that details tragic events and horrifying legacies.
Renate and Ilse, Jew and Gentile, are best friends in pre-World War II Germany, but they’re driven apart in the terrible buildup to war when Ilse joins Bund Deutscher Mädel, the female division of the Hitler Youth movement. Many years later, in 1989 New York City, Ilse’s estranged daughter, Ava Fischer, receives her mother’s ashes and a trove of letters, addressed to Renate but never sent, that reveal her mother’s terrible secrets. In turn, Ava resists sharing Ilse’s history with her own daughter, Sophie, and Ava realizes that she “has kept Sophie from her own story.”
The narrative unfolds from several characters’ perspectives, making plain “the things we lie about to make our crimes bearable,” while also opening a new door that may lead to redemption and joy for future generations.
The Daughter’s Tale is a detailed, immersive chronicle of World War II’s tragedy, the power of love and the lengths to which a mother will go to save her children when there are no choices left. With his second novel, Armando Lucas Correa (The German Girl ) depicts the meager options available to Jewish people caught in the vise of war, highlighting two real historical events: the ill-fated voyage of the liner St. Louis, in which Jews were not allowed to debark at their destination of Havana, Cuba; and the 1944 SS massacre of French villagers in the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, where only a few survived.
In the novel, a Jewish woman named Amanda Sternberg flees Germany in 1939 with her two daughters, Lina and Viera, but she makes a fateful decision that separates the children and forever alters their lives. Viera is sent to Cuba, but Correa’s novel follows the youngest daughter, Lina, as she escapes wartime imprisonment to begin a different life in France, where her relative freedom is short-lived. Correa starkly portrays the many horrors that were visited on an innocent citizenry.
In her new novel, Feast Your Eyes, Myla Goldberg, author of the 2001 bestseller Bee Season, has again turned her talent for detail into a powerful story about gifted yet flawed characters who can’t escape tragic missteps.
Lillian Preston is a singularly talented photographer whose early work runs afoul of obscenity laws in the 1950s. Photographs of her seminaked 6-year-old daughter, Samantha, lead to trial, tragedy and a rift between mother and daughter that never quite heals. The book is structured like an exhibition catalog that Samantha has organized for a retrospective of her mother’s work. Through the diaries and letters of Lillian’s loved ones, Samantha uncovers Lillian’s gifts, her struggles and intense ambition, tempered by sorrow and love for her daughter.
Like a photograph that captures the inner light of its subject, Feast Your Eyes catches such moments on the page, illuminating the power of both beauty and heartbreak. Goldberg unsparingly reveals a driven artist whose propulsive talent is also her Achilles’ heel.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, the fourth novel from Balli Kaur Jaswal (Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows), is an absolute delight. It interweaves multiple family stories within the colorful panorama of a journey to India, resulting in a novel that is sad, joyful and exciting all at the same time.
Jaswal’s narrative entwines the stories of three adult sisters whose disparate lives are catapulted on a new and completely different trajectory when their mother makes a request. With her death only hours away, India-born Sita Kaur Shergill, who raised her children in England, says she wants her daughters to undertake a pilgrimage to India—one she was unable to take—and provides detailed instructions for the trip that are daunting, life-changing and often hilarious.
The Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina—live very separate lives, each with its own secrets. The author enfolds readers in deceptively simple stories that reveal the hidden depth, humor and pathos of each sister’s life, as little by little they learn and accept each other’s stories. The teeming, textured setting of India is captured through the author’s evocative scenes, as the sisters navigate on-the-ground travel as well as their own inner terrain.