Book Review: Bending Toward the Sun

A decade in the writing, this memoir explores the continuing impact of the Holocaust on survivors and their families. In 1942, Rita Lurie was five years old when her extended family moved into a farmer’s attic where they remained in hiding for two years. It was a traumatic time filled with fear of discovery, hunger and death; young Rita witnessed Nazis gunning down her cousin and uncle, her little brother and mother died while in hiding. When her father remarried after the war, Rita’s bitterness at childhood lost began emerging in her bitterness toward her stepmother. This bitterness alternating with bouts of depression remained an integral part of Rita’s life to the extent that it tainted her children and grandchildren’s lives as well.

The family relocated to Chicago yet the safety of America did little to reunite fractured relationships or salve old wounds. As a result, Rita’s daughter Leslie grew up feeling overly sheltered and guilty for enjoying her own childhood. No matter how successful Leslie might be in her personal and professional life, she continued to feel guilty for enjoying simple activities that didn’t include her mother. Worse, Leslie’s daughter began to exhibit serious separation anxiety, unusual for an eleven year old.

While this memoir is valuable for its insights into the terrors of Nazi Germany, it falls well short of Anne Frank with whom Leslie likened her mother. Rita appears to be clinically depressed much of the time while Leslie tiptoed around her, trying to appease yet always falling short. Rita couldn’t even let go old resentments long enough to enjoy her granddaughter’s birthday; instead, becoming livid because she wasn’t given the place of honor at the child’s party. Despite Leslie’s best efforts, readers are left feeling frustrated by her mother’s inability to get past childhood deprivations instead of lauding her surviving a dark time in history. 

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