Pub Writes

About the publishing Industry, editorials, and reviews

After Long Silence by Helen Fremont

Posted by Caitie F on December 22, 2009

Title: After Long Silence

Author: Helen Fremont

Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)

Hardcover: 322 pages

ISBN: 0385333692

Rating: +++

Inside cover summary:

Helen Fremont was raised Roman Catholic in America, only to discover in adulthood that her parents were Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Delving into extraordinary secrets that held her family together in a bond of silence for more than forty years, she recounts with heartbreaking clarity and candor a remarkable tale of survival, as vivid as fiction but with the eloquence of truth.

When Helen was small, her mother taught her the sign of the cross in six languages. Theirs was teh tender conspiracy of a little girl and her mother at bedtime, protected by a God who could respond in any language. What she didn’t understand was that she was being equipped with proof of her Catholicism, a hedge against persecution, real or imagined.

It wasn’t until adulthood that she began to comprehend the terrible irony of her mother’s gesture. She knew that her father had spent six years in the Siberian Gulag, surviving nearly on will alone; that her mother’s elder sister, fearless and proud, had married an Italian Fascist whose title and connections helped them survive during the war. But their faith, their legacy as Jews, was kept hidden for decades.

Why I read it:

This book was picked for my book club that I found on meetup.com in December. I couldn’t make the meet because we had plans, but I still wanted to read the book. People in the group liked it and I try to read everything about the Holocaust and the experiences of the people affected, because I think it is a part of history we cannot forget.

What I Thought:

This is a book that above anything else will make you think. Her parents changed their identities multiple times to save themselves, and their future family.They sacrificed everything to hide that they were Jewish. Both Helen and her sister Lara noticed holes in their lives and their past, so they start to investigate and find out the truth. They let their parents know that they know and her mother is not happy about it at all. She thinks the past should just stay there. She is still afraid that people will come and take everything they have. Helen’s mother still does not give information freely, Lara and Helen have to pry it out slowly.

The story of how they survived was different from anything else I have read, they were not in concentration camps, they were not hiding in a basement (for the most part). They were using their intelligence and education to save themselves.

What shocked me the most was Zosia’s reaction to Helen and Lara digging in their past – she is furious. She kicks Helen out after reading her notebooks of information. Helen had told Zosia’s son and his wife, and Zosia acts like it is something to be ashamed of, even though it made her son understand things a lot more. Zosia also yells at Helen for being :obsessed with the Holocaust” which made me angry. What did she expect to happen when you have lied to your children for their entire lives?

This has been a difficult review to write because it was a difficult book to digest. Her parents are such strong and hard-working people and they only did what they thought was right…but at the same time it is easy to get frustrated with them like Helen did, which may have been my problem. I didn’t LIKE feeling frustrated with them! They were good people. I guess from a literary perspective it is a positive thing that Helen kept her parents as they were, but at the same time I wish she had toned down her frustration because it made reading parts of the book aggravating.

That said, it is still a good read and offers a new perspective. I think that the story of the children of survivors is also a very important one and they are people who help teach us what happened and how it can affect the rest of your life. I also am glad she told her family’s secret because I think being ashamed of what happened and hiding your heritage means that the idiots who deny that it happened and the Anti-Semites have won a little.

There are a lot of people who are angry that she revealed her parent’s secrets to the world…but I am not going to judge her on that.

Have you read or reviewed the book? If so, post about it in the links and I will add it to this!

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One Response to “After Long Silence by Helen Fremont”

  1. Tania said

    I just finished reading this book and can completely understand your reaction and that of Helen and Lara. I also understand Zosia’s reaction.

    Although I am not of Jewish descent (i think), my mom lost contact with her family in 1944 in Lithuania, after they were all transported from Belarus. Her parents and uncle were beaten and killed by the nazis in Belarus in front of her home, with her and siblings inside the house with doors and shutters closed. After the nazis burned the village down, her siblings and her aunt and cousins were loaded unto a train and moved to somewhere near or in Lithuania. She either does not know or won’t say what happened to them. She was separated from her family, and ended up in a work camp in Germany; France after the war, and now in the U.S. I will let her talk to me about those things she remembers and will ask questions. If I get a “I don’t know”. It stops there. She remembers her siblings’ names, not her aunt’s nor her aunt’s children, although she spent a number of years with them prior to ’44.

    I have heard bits and pieces of the unthinkable horrors she experienced and can only imagine those she does not speak about. The things that she has not told me or that which she does not remember accurately, to me, are not lies. I would never be the one the rip the scab off her emotional wounds and have her bleed again; never, ever. All she has are me, my brothers and her grandchildren. She has earned the peace that now surrounds her. I would never let anyone take that away from her.

    I think Helen was wrong to confront Zosia and to peel off all those layers of emotional protection that she built over the years. I would never, could never do that to my mother, nor would my brothers.

    Tania

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