Monday, 1 December 2014

Between Gods

Author: Alison Pick
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir, Canadian
Type: Hard Cover
Pages: 400
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: September 2014
First Lines: "Pain disappears.  These years later -- not even so many of them -- summoning the details is hard: what exactly it was that made me feel so alone, so outside myself and my life, so lifeless I no longer wanted to be alive."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the Man Booker-nominated author of the novel Far to Goand one of our most talented young writers comes an unflinching, moving and unforgettable memoir about family secrets and the rediscovered past. 

Alison Pick was born in the 1970's and raised in a supportive, loving family. She grew up laughing with her sister and cousins, and doting on her grandparents. Then as a teenager, Alison made a discovery that instantly changed her understanding of her family, and her vision for her own life, forever. She learned that her Pick grandparents, who had escaped from the Czech Republic during WWII, were Jewish--and that most of this side of the family had died in concentration camps. She also discovered that her own father had not known of this history until, in his twenties, he had a chance encounter with an old family friend--and then he, too, had kept the secret from Alison and her sister.

In her early thirties, engaged to be married to her longtime boyfriend but struggling with a crippling depression, Alison slowly but doggedly began to research and uncover her Jewish heritage. Eventually she came to realize that her true path forward was to reclaim her history and identity as a Jew. But even then, one seemingly insurmountable problem remained: her mother wasn't Jewish, so technically Alison wasn't either. In this by times raw, by times sublime memoir, Alison recounts her struggle with the meaning of her faith, her journey to convert to Judaism, her battle with depression, and her path towards facing and accepting the past and embracing the future--including starting a new family of her own. This is her unusual and gripping story, told in crystalline prose and with all the nuance and drama of a novel, but illuminated with heartbreaking insight into the very real lives of the dead, and hard-won hope for the lives of all those who carry on after.

My Review: As soon as I saw this book in a Featured Reads pamphlet at my local library where I work I knew that I wanted to read it.  Canadian memoir, set in the beautiful backdrop of Toronto and dealing with such a deep personal crisis?  I'm in!

I have never read a book by Pick before but I was impressed with her writing and the emotion that she easily conveys to her readers as she struggled with her crisis of faith as well as debilitating depression.  Her struggle to find out who she is and where she came from was touching as she pieces together her faith and what it means to her as she looks back on her life with her parents and grandparents as well as the life she wants to build with her husband.

The struggles with her faith and depression felt authentic, compelling and, at times, quite touching.  I kept having to remind myself that this was a memoir because there was so much happening to the author that it didn't seem possible for her to handle so much all at once.  But I found Pick to be inspiring as she fought to discover this history that she recently knew nothing about.  I also thought it was very interesting to see how she somehow unconsciously felt Jewish all along.  Even though I've never had to deal with such a huge crisis of faith in my life, Pick managed to help me understand her frustration, sense of loss and then the strength she needed in order to stand up for what she ultimately knew was her calling.

Another perk to this book was how much I learned about the Jewish faith.  Pick was able to provide information regarding Judaism and its history without it negatively influencing the flow of the story.  I enjoyed learning about Judaism and I also found it fascinating to see how Alison's father reacted to her embracing their Jewish heritage even though he was raised Christian.

This was a powerful, well written book that showcases familial secrets, faith, dealing with depression and family all woven together quite seamlessly.  Pick's voice was not overly dramatic or saccharine but compelling and touching.


My Rating: 3.5 stars

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