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Imagine receiving a telephone call from someone inquiring about a relative you never knew existed? That's what journalist Steve Luxenberg experienced in April 1995 when his aging mother, dealing with health problems, announced to her doctor that she had a deceased sister. Remarkable, thought Luxenberg, because his mother always said that she was an only child! Not wanting to burden their mother in her declining years, Steve and his siblings did not challenge her about this apparent family secret or whether it was true. Then, six months after his mother died, Luxenberg received a communication from the local cemetery confirming that indeed, his mother's sister was buried there. Her name was Annie.
Annie's Ghosts chronicles Steve Luxenberg's journey to learn about the aunt he never knew and the circumstances that kept her hidden. With the guise of a seasoned investigative reporter, he examines historical documents, interviews relatives, visits the neighborhoods of his youth, and confronts bureaucratic roadblocks in a connect-the-dots pursuit of the facts. He is dauntless in following up every lead, forming conclusions with penetrating analysis of what he reads, sees, and hears. A supremely talented writer, Luxenberg probes deeply into the mind of his mother, searching for the motives behind her abandonment of Annie. And, too, he asks questions about Annie's parents, the decisions they made, and the cultural influences of the 1920s that determined her fate. The fact that he could not rely on verbal reports from his mother and grandparents makes his dedicated inquiry even more impressive.
In writing this review, I will not divulge what Luxenberg learned about Annie or how his story concludes. Like any great mystery or spell-binding tale of intrigue, you deserve the pleasure of finding out yourself. Suffice it to say, you will be mesmerized, awe-struck, and thoroughly entertained by Annie's Ghosts. At one and the same time the book reads like a suspense novel, memoir, and forensic study, presented magnificently, a page turner all the way. In the end, I suspect Steve Luxenberg reconciled satisfactorily the confusion and uncertainty about Annie and his mother. Told with candor and unabashed self-disclosure, we owe him a debt of gratitude for discovering Annie's life, revealing it to us, and making it a memory that won't and cannot be forgotten.
© 2009 James K. Luiselli
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 6 books and over 200 journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.
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