Author: Steve Luxenberg
When Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts began his journey seeking to unravel a family secret, little did he know at the time that he would be really opening up a huge can of worms that would lead to some jolting findings about his family.
Author: Steve Luxenberg
When Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into A Family Secret began his journey seeking to unravel a family secret, little did he know at the time that he would be really opening up a huge can of worms that would lead to some jolting findings about his family.
One Spring afternoon in 1995 Luxenberg picked up the phone and was completely caught off guard when he heard his half-sister Marsha known as Sash or Sashie say: “You’re never going to believe this. Did you know Mom had a sister?” This was certainly news to him, as he always was led to believe that his mother Beth, whose legal name was Bertha (something he also found out after her death in 1999), had no siblings. In fact, Beth would always state in a soft voice, “I’m an only child,” and this was what she told everyone she met. Apparently, when Luxenberg’s mother was getting on in age and not in the best of health mentioned at a medical visit to a social worker for the Jewish Family Service, that she had a disabled sister. She also said that she didn’t know what happened to her younger sister who had been institutionalized at the age of two when his mother was four. The social worker was surprised upon hearing this revelation and thus she immediately called Sashie to find out what was going on. According to Luxenberg, “That was it. So little information, so many questions. Institutionalized?”
Luxenberg has been a senior editor with the Washington Post for twenty-two years, overseeing reporting that has won numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for explanatory journalism. He offers a special perspective in presenting a personal history of his family’s roots and secrets as well as the institutions for the mentally ill that existed over a half century ago. Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into A Family Secret contains many surprises not only for the author but also for his readers pertaining to his hidden aunt, his mother’s silence, his father’s immigration to the USA and his war record, his grandparents as well as other members of his extended family. Concerning his forgotten aunt Annie, Luxenberg discovers that she was physically handicapped and that she had a leg amputated at the age of seventeen. Unfortunately, her prosthetic replacement never fitted right. He also finds out that her mental state was continually deteriorating and finally at the age of twenty she had been hospitalized, as her family was unable to cope with her care. As Luxenberg states: “Shame. Stigma. Disgrace. How often those words closed a conversation about Annie and mental illness, how quickly they came to the surface when I mentioned to friends or strangers that I was trying to understand why my mother had made her sister’s existence into a secret, and why she had not only kept that secret, but guarded it, nurtured it.”
This narrative is a tour de force by any standards, but more important it prods the reader to think carefully about his or her own family’s roots and what if there were some interesting skeletons in the closets. Should we pursue them or is it better to let well enough alone?
As a piece of writing,
Luxenberg’s brutally honest narrative is nothing less than a
triumph as his investigative journalistic skills weave a yarn that
make it a fascinating read. Moreover, he does not shy away from
plunging into the unknown, digging away as much as he can until the
fullest telling of the tale emerges.