Monday, April 21, 2014

Annie's Ghosts

This year's pick for the Great Michigan read, Annie's Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg, is an intriguing blend of personal, regional and world history.  The book begins when a family secret is uncovered.  Luxenberg learns, as his mother's health is failing, that she had a sister who was institutionalized; in the past his mother had always referred to herself as an only child. 

After his mother's death, the story unfolds, and he learns the sisters in fact grew up together.  The younger sister lived at home till just before her 21st birthday, and she spent the duration of his own childhood in an asylum not far from where he grew up.

The more Luxenberg learns, the more questions he has:  who was in on the secret, what steps were taken to keep the secret, and why keep the secret at all?  Finding the answers to his questions involves not just exploring his own family and those relationships but learning more about the history of the mental health system in Detroit and throughout the United States and about the immigrant experience of Jewish Americans before and after the Holocaust. 

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