Luxenberg is a journalist who found out a family secret and decided to write a book about it. His mother, born 1917, had a younger sister who was committed to a mental hospital at age twenty-one. His mother kept her sister’s existence a secret and always told people that she was an only child.
The family do not find this secret out until after their mother has died, so they cannot ask her about it. We never hear her side of the story, but Luxenberg tries to piece together her motivations as the book goes on. The sister, Annie, was born with some physical deformity that worsened and her leg was amputated. She also had some mental disabilities that were never properly diagnosed or recorded. The family could not cope with her, and put her in to an institution, as was common in those days. Annie’s mother visited her regularly but Beth, her sister (and the writer’s mother) never did. Annie died in the institution in the 70s.
Luxenberg describes how he goes about researching this part of the family history, and the story takes him back to Ukraine where his grandparents were originally from. He explores both his mother ‘s and his father’s personal family history and lays it all down in the book. He shares his own feelings about what his mother did, and tries to be objective. I wonder how it felt to find out that his mother what not quite who she said she was, she did not have the childhood she had told him she had, and she had severed all ties with her disabled sister and left her alone after the death of their parents.
This is kind of a detective story, as he puts together a family tree, and finds out lots of interesting things along the way. He never finds out the answers to some important questions, though, and that must have been frustrating.