Meaty Memoirs


I had the great pleasure of meeting both Patricia (Patty as she likes to be called) Volk and Sonia Taitz yesterday at ORT’s annual luncheon in Chicago. I arrived early, and the two authors were sitting in a corner of the large room at the Bryn Mawr Country Club where 300 women would eventually gather.

I had just finished reading Shocked for my book club and had been bowled over by the creative structure that Volk used to compare her mother (“the most beautiful woman in the world”) and the inventive fashion maven Elsa Schiaparelli. The author had never met Schiaparelli but had read her memoir as a young girl. She was smitten and reread the book many decades later in researching her own memoir about a daughter’s relationship with her mother and what set her mother apart from a woman like Schiaparelli.

So, I walked up to Patty, shook her hand, and waxed eloquent about how much the book moved me and how the structure blew me away. She seemed genuinely pleased, something I wouldn’t necessary assume from an author whose book was reviewed by the New York Times as “a meditation on the plastic possibilities of womankind and a very special treat.”

Maureen Corrigan, NPR Books, had this to say:

“Did your mother read at least the galleys of the book before she died?” I asked.
“No,” Volk said. “I couldn’t have written it while she was alive.”
“That’s a problem I’m having. How do you write about family and friends when they are still around and risk offending them or ending the relationship? Maybe you can address that when you speak later today.”
“Yes, and if I forget, please ask me that question during the Q&A.”
There was no Q&A, but Volk began her talk by asking the woman who had asked her about writing memoirs to raise her hand.
I proudly raised mine. She’d remembered.
And even though she’d said earlier that she couldn’t have written her memoir while her mother was alive, she took a very different stance this time around. “Write whatever you want. Don’t care whether or not you hurt someone’s feelings. Tell the truth.”

Now I hadn’t read Taitz’s The Watchmaker’s Daughter but immediately plopped down my money before walking to her and Volk. I didn’t want to offend her.
I was honest. “I bought your book and am looking forward to reading it. Judy Levin whom I think you’ve met recommended that everyone in our book club pick it up.”
I handed her the book.
“Would you please sign it for me?”
Taitz picked up the pen she had at the ready and, having seen my name on my name tag, wrote “To Jane. Enjoy!”
And enjoy I have. I’ve plowed through half of the book and didn’t put it down later on Sunday when the Chicago Blackhawks played their third game against the Nashville Predators. And I’m a big Blackhawks’ fan.

Like Volk, Tatiz has written a mesmerizing memoir. Her parents, both of whom are Holocaust survivors, came to the U.S. where Tatiz was born. Straddling the worlds of both the Old Country ad the New, Ziddish versus English, Tatiz manages to find her place while keeping her heritage alive.

I have a lot of work to do.

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