The Women My Father Knew

From May ’10 Spotlight: Israeli novelist Sayvon Liebrecht was in Chicago last month promoting her new novel The Women My Father Knew. The central character is “Meir,” a writer whose emotional journey begins in a Manhattan apartment in 1990 and ends a month later in a clinic near Netanya.

Meir’s mother was raised in the safety and comfort of suburban Connecticut, but his father, born in Poland, grew up as an orphan in Israel. They meet and marry in Tel Aviv, and for a while, all goes well. Then family obligations force Meir’s mother to return to America. It’s supposed to be a brief visit, but complications ensue and the marriage quickly unravels.

Initially Meir has few childhood memories, but as the story unfolds bits and pieces return, enabling Liebrecht to paint a vivid portrait of Israeli life in the early ‘60s. Like Meir, many of Liebrecht’s protagonists are the children of Holocaust survivors (as she is herself), but this time she breaks new ground: Meir’s parents are not only well-drawn, compelling characters, they’re also stand-ins for the complicated financial interdependence between American and Israeli Jews. This is a dynamic that very few Jewish artists have dared to address from either side, so kudos to Liebrecht for digging in with such great empathy.

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