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The Watchmaker’s Daughter

Fran Joyce and author Sonia Taitz

Editor’s note:  This is the first in a new book review series; we plan to focus on female writers, often with ties to the Pittsburgh area.

We chose to start with The Watchmaker’s Daughter because it affected me deeply. Wise Women Editor-at-large Fran Joyce and I met Sonia Taitz at the Pittsburgh based Women Read Women Write conference last October. We were table mates, and I found Sonia smart and interesting. I bought her book almost out of convention, then found myself with unexpected time to read as my 83 year old mom recovered from open-heart surgery.  Mom lay there, frail and tiny, relying on me – her youngest – to be her strength. She had given me her mother’s wedding ring the day before, I think “just in case.” It was on my hand as I took care of her… you can see how the bond of generation to generation was on my mind.

All parent-child relationships are complex; throw in trauma like the surviving the Holocaust and the culture clash of old-world Judaism to new-world secularity, and you have a powerful tale. Taitz writes beautifully and I was mesmerized. Having just met her, I was also acutely aware that the book was about flesh and blood people and real events.  It was a weirdly intimate experience.

In case the review below does not make it obvious, I give it a strong “must read.”

*****

Beautiful, funny, poignant but not sentimental; Sonia Taitz’s memoir The Watchmaker’s Daughter, about growing up the child of Holocaust survivors, reads like a novel, made more powerful by truth.

Taitz’ style is lyrical and rich. We grow up with her, privy to the front row seat in her mind. We feel what it feels like to be a kid, sometimes embarrassed with our family, sometimes proud, sometimes afraid.  I don’t know how she remembers things so vividly (and even she qualifies that it is to the best of her memory) but she certainly recreates the emotions of a child, teen, and young adult, and shows the depth children possess but adults often fails to acknowledge.

Taitz reveals her parents’ story and her own slowly and masterfully through the eyes of a brooding, fiercely intelligent and restless daughter.  As she goes from child to adult, and her parents age, we see more layers.  It is not always a pretty, nor does the way they cope with the aftermath of their Holocaust experience always seem laudable. But who can judge? That too is the point.

Through Sonia’s eyes we get a glimpse of a generation of Jews in the New York suburbs coming to terms – or not – with the impact of the unimaginable in their lives. We get to see culture clash and generational clash. Sonia’s story contains love, humor, shock, pain – and a truly awesome romance.  It would be hard to make up parts of the story, because readers wouldn’t believe it.  Taitz’ gift is in making you want to devour it; it is a page-turner that is at once engaging and profound.

Taitz weaves her tale with meaning and tenderness.  The same events and the same circumstances could have been woven with pain and bitterness – and perhaps at other points in her life they were – but instead Sonia Taitz chooses compassion and acceptance as her twine.

Her tale is richer for that choice; her life is richer for the telling. So is ours.

*****

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