Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Available at Amazon.com
Review by Rene Schwiesow
Linda Pressman is the adult child of two holocaust survivors. The horrific ordeal that her parents, family, and their friends endured was a constant underlying trauma throughout her childhood.
The number 7 is a sacred number. In Hebrew the number signifies completion. Linda was the sixth female child out of seven girls. “Looking Up” is the memoir of growing up in the fullness of a Jewish, but not too Jewish, household. The war drove God out of her parent’s immediate vision; survival was all. Near the end of the book, Linda describes her family as being a member of “Holocaust Judasim.” This, she says, “consists of the joyous celebration of the food that’s been handed down to us by generations of Jews who believe in the God my parents no longer believe in. There are other tenets, like both a fear of being Jewish and a longing for the lost Judaism of their childhoods, when my parents had been sure that God was out there somewhere, up there somewhere, that if they looked up they’d find Him, but most of it centered around food, especially since they’d had none during the war.”
Pressman’s parents met post-war at a Displaced Person’s Camp. Her father spent the war in Siberia, a fact that explains his belief that Chicago weather was balmy even during the dead of winter. Her mother’s war time childhood was spent hiding in the forests, scavenging for food and knowing that trees were not safe to hide behind after a relative was found behind a tree and shot. Pressman says this about her mother and the traumatic effect of the war: “Mom doesn’t just come out of the war with missing family, with a missing tooth; she was missing other essential things, like a sense of well-being and of being right with the world that the other women had.”
After immigrating to the United States, her father became a self-made man, building a lucrative laundry business, supplying the large family with sufficient means toward a lifestyle that allowed Pressman’s mother to remain at home to raise the children. As a father, however, he was rarely present, though there were exceptions. Her mother is most often described as being tangled perpetually in a phone cord that reached from the base to her downstairs laundry/sewing area where she spent most of her time at the machine and talking to friends and relatives. We are left with the idea that the 7 girls had plenty of time to fend for themselves. As a reader, I had to wonder at the metaphorical reasoning for Pressman’s mother spending so much time on the phone. Of course there is a stereotypical idea that homemakers were cooking, sewing, or spending their lives gossiping via telephone; however, from the metaphorical standpoint one can see the phone cord as umbilical, a cord that kept Pressman’s mother fed by her family – her remaining family.
Pressman weaves the war time story of her parents in and out of her childhood and the world she experienced on Drake Avenue in Skokie, IL, outside of Chicago. On occasion this may leave the reader somewhat disoriented as to time frames.
“Looking Up” is not your typical Holocaust memoir. While Pressman does offer some grisly views of life on the run during the Nazi Regime, she offers it through her own eyes. This point of view distances the story by a generation. What Pressman shows us is a glimpse at the lifelong after effects of having spent one’s life evading death at the hand of a Nazi and a look at the effect that life had on the successive generation – a generation who grew up in a “typical” suburban neighborhood living the “American dream,” but haunted by a war, a bigotry, an atrocity, that will never go away despite the 7 daughters, despite the number 7 representing the seal of God.
*****Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the wildly popular South Shore venue The Art of Words and serves on the committee for the newly inaugurated yearly Visual Inverse event at The Plymouth Center for the Arts – pairing art with poetry.