Miriam Himmelfarb is the middle of three daughters of holocaust survivors Rachael and Daniel, who are secular Jews born in Europe.  Safe in the house on Lippincott in an immigrant neighborhood of Toronto, Sondra, Miriam and Esther grow up hearing their parents’ nightmare screams every night. They bask in genuine affection and learn to respect the horrific history of their elders whose needs come to dominate their own. Their father angers at the slightest provocation, and every tiny domestic issue is a reminder of Auschwitz. 

These conditions become their own form of trauma. Daniel allows his child-abusing younger brother into the home where he secretly molests Sondra. The girl flees to live on the street in prostitution and addiction. Esther turns to religion and marries within the faith, finding comfort in traditions. Following in the footsteps of her professor mother, Miriam becomes a philosopher. She briefly moves out during her studies to live in the avant-garde Rochdale College, but she is unable to build a life outside the parental home and returns, denying herself independence and love.
The loss of her mother by carefully planned suicide is terrifying.


Like the protagonist, Burstow is a daughter of survivors who is a professor at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (Toronto). One of her agendas in this novel is to reveal the effect of trauma on subsequent generations.  The text is full of Yiddish words and idiom capturing the flavor of conversation and story-telling in a first-generation Jewish home. Another agenda is feminist, in its recounting of the past and in the on-going travails of the present--almost all of which are generated by men against women. The heroic mother, who is violently (and inexplicably) opposed to psychiatry, decides to make a rational suicide, for which she demands the blessing of all three of her daughters. 

The author is an anti-psychiatry activist. Her novel suggests an autobiographical theme and may hint at the origins of her convictions.



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