In this keenly observed memoir, American artist Jeffrey Gorney's search for his roots in Romania sheds light on other lives in other places and obscure yet gripping aspects of World War II.. Even as he explores family history and family mystery, Gorney takes a lively look at growing up in working-class Brooklyn where tales told by immigrant grandparents spark future genealogical jaunts. Ancestral sites and graveyards yield insights, and he tells of life and death in a 1900s Moldavian village, a royal scandal in 1930s Bucharest, and catastrophe in Edwardian London. His report of Romanian pogroms foreshadows the full fury of the Holocaust. Enhanced by photos and recipes, MYSTERIOUS PLACES explores what family means, and how family stories shape us ...and the past holds lessons for the present.
A TRIP YOU WILL WANT TO MAKE -- Ann Schwartz, retired copy chief, Grand Central Publishing
***** In rich, juicy prose Gorney takes us on a journey from his childhood. It all comes to life, complete with marvelous details and suspense. There are moments when you will laugh out loud, like when his upstairs Brooklyn neighbor screams at her milk-hating daughter and the time his mother catches the fancy of a Romanian priest. There are fascinating moments including the telling of a fabulous royal Romanian scandal. And there are poignant, heartbreaking moments: the book is worth its weight in gold if only for the two chapters on the Romanian pogrom. For me, MYSTERIOUS PLACES dominated a weather-perfect summer weekend on the beach, and I'm sure you will enjoy it, too.
COMPELLING AND SATISFYING READ--Susan C. Spivack, "reader and writer"
***** This is a wonderful memoir, family history and travel journal (to Romania) all rolled into one. Every family has its share of odd characters, half-veiled secrets and great joys and tragedies. Jeffrey Gorney manages to reveal much about his childhood and at the same time gives insightful rich portraits of his parents, grandparents, and many aunts, uncles and cousins. The world of each family member comes alive in their humor, strength and courage, or sheer zaniness--all played out in the aftermath of the Holocaust raging through Europe, and the struggle for survival and success in the New World of New York City. The second section of the book in which the author traveled to Romania with his mother to seek information and the graves of relatives lost perhaps to the Holocaust, was especially compelling for me. And I loved all the food described in the book. When he was 6, my Jewish Grandfather also came from Romania. This book helped me fill in the many gaps between the few small stories he was able to tell me.
A lovingly detailed exploration of family history and memory.
In this memoir, the author tells the story of his loving, lively Romanian family and his quest to better understand them and his larger heritage. The first section focuses on Gorney's earliest memories as he was raised by his mother and grandparents, surrounded by a host of motley cousins and relatives. Later, the memoir transitions into the author's adult travels in Romania, where he explored the cities and towns where his relatives lived, and found long-lost family gravesites. Along the way he attempts to paint a detailed picture of the country that shaped his family's heritage and lay out the historical context of their lives. Gorney is a clear, fluid writer whose love and appreciation of his family clearly shines through. Lovely sentences ("time picks the pockets of truth") convey the fragility of the history he's searching for. The narrative works best when it focuses tighlty on a few characters, such as Gorney's grandparents and goes into detail about their lives. The inclusion of photographs, and even recipes, helps flesh out these mments and brings them vividly to life. At times, however the text mentions too many names of extended family members at once which may make it difficult for some readers to follow along. The same holds true when Gorney journeys to Romania with his mother: the chapters that focus generally on Romanian history tend to drag, but when they zoom in tightly on the search for one particular graveite, it heightens readers' emotional investment in the story. Although the memoir is a bit uneven overal, Gorney still does an admirable job of placing his own family's tale on the plate and making it accessible to a wider audience, which is no small feat.