Becoming My Mother’s Daughter
A Story of Survival and Renewal
Paper 188 pp.
Online discount: 25%
Becoming My Mother’s Daughter: A Story of Survival and Renewal tells the story of three generations of a Jewish Hungarian family whose fate has been inextricably bound up with the turbulent history of Europe, from the First World War through the Holocaust and the communist takeover after World War II, to the family’s dramatic escape and emmigration to Canada. The emotional centre and narrative voice of the story belong to Eva, an artist, dreamer, and writer trying to work through her complex and deep relationship with her mother, whose portrait she cannot paint until she completes her journey through memory.
The core of the book is Eva’s riveting recollection of the last months of World War II in Budapest, seen through a child’s eyes, and is reminiscent in its power of scenes in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Exploring the bond between generations of mothers and daughters, the book illustrates the struggle between the need for independence and the search for continuity, the significant impact of childhood on adult life, the reshaping of personality in immigration, the importance of dreams in making us face reality, and the redemptive power of memory. Illustrations by the author throughout the book, some in colour, enhance the story.
Erika Gottlieb received visual art training in Budapest, Vienna, and Montreal, and her PhD in English literature at McGill. She taught at McGill, Concordia, and Dawson in Montreal and combined a career in visual arts, teaching, and writing. She is the author of three books of literary criticism, including Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial (2003) and dozens of literary essays. Erika Gottlieb lived with her family in Toronto until her death in 2007.
“Despite the immediacy of its content the narrative has a complex structure, operating on several differect time levels and employing...a number of recurrent symbols.... [and it] give[s] an insight into one of the lesser-known aspects of the Holocaust. In Hungary the ‘Final Solution’ started late and took an exceptionally brutal course. Within four months of the German invasion in March 1944, nearly 450,000 of Hungary’s 750,000 Jews were deported from the provinces to perish in Auschwitz, while 100,000 men were being decimated in the lethal forced-labour service and 200,000 men, women and children remained in Budapest at the mercy of the bloodthirsty Arrow Cross thugs. What Eva, with her sister and mother, suffers in Budapest—with their father and husband on the run—is typical of the ordeal of those who were spared Auschwitz but little else. However, the Holocaust is only one of the two central themes of the book. The other is Eva’s—or the author’s—personal development, determined mainly by the impact of her mother. The two themes are closely connected, and the relationship of mother and daughter is intensified far beyond the norm by the extraordinary conditions of the Holocaust. Eva’s dependence on her mother for her survival against extraordinary odds imposes on her an unusual sense of obligation, but if she is to develop her own individuality she must liberate herself.... Whether [the resolution she achieves] is a profound piece of psychological wisdom or a counsel of despair is for the reader to decide.”
— Ladislaus Löb, University of Sussex, East European Jewish Affairs
“Gottlieb’s memoir is tender, sad and touching.... The book is...enhanced with reproductions of sketches and paintings of Gottlieb’s family, and of the scenes she depicts so vividly.”
— Catherine Thompson, The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo)
“In this deeply moving memoir, Erika Gottlieb—thinly veiled as her narrator Eva—evokes the trauma of her childhood and youth in Hungary during the Second World War, the miracle of her survival, and her triumphant emigration to Canada as a young woman. In writing of herself and probing her formative influences, Gottlieb also writes of her grandmother, her mother, and her two sisters. She weaves a compellingly honest narrative of three generations of women whose personal narratives inform and enrich one another. Eva’s grief following the death of her beloved mother leads her to revisit painful wartime memories. As Eva finally realizes, reconciliation is made possible by the sustaining love of her mother—an inspiring and redemptive love that she bequeaths to her own children.”
— Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University, author of Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices
“[A] delicate, poetic exploration of three generations of women in the context of a grieving daughter’s attempt to understand her relationship to her mother and reclaim the truth of her childhood experience.... Regretting that she did not paint her mother’s portrait while she was still alive, Gottlieb paints a verbal ‘portrait in time,’ and realizes that in searching for her mother’s portrait, she has been searching for herself. Ultimately there are no answers to some of her questions about mourning, memory, and forgiveness; despite this, Becoming My Mother’s Daughter provides a valued contribution to autobiographical accounts of Jewish-Hungarian life in the twentieth century and a moving examination of how an adult woman comes to terms with her childhood expectation that her mother be omnipotent and omniscient.”
— Adreinne Kertzer, Canadian Literature