Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret (July 15-August 7)

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Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret (July 15-August 7)

Jul 15, 2009, 10:48am

Please welcome Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret. Steve will be chatting on LibraryThing until July 29th.

Edited: Jul 31, 2009, 3:27pm

Every family has a story, and for many families, that story starts with a secret.

In writing Annie's Ghosts (a story about my mom's secret and her reasons for keeping it), I became a collector of other families' secrets. Whenever I would tell anyone about my detective work, the first question was invariably something like this: "Can you tell the secret?" Sure, I would say. The next question was often: "Can I tell you mine?"

No shortage of heirlooms line this attic: hidden affairs, of course, but also hidden marriages, hidden divorces, hidden crimes, even hidden families. Yet we even if we learn the secret, we rarely learn the motivations, circumstances or pressures that compelled the secret keeper to choose deceit over honesty.

Questions, comments and stories are welcome. For those who haven't looked at my website,, check it out. There's additional information on Annie's Ghosts, including photos and documents, that goes beyond the book. Please spread the word -- I've had the good fortune of being widely reviewed online and in print, as well as interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered and the Diane Rehm Show, but a first-time author relies on loyal readers for word of mouth!

Edited: Jul 15, 2009, 2:20pm

Hello Mr. Luxenberg,

I had lost both my parents and all grandparents by the time I turned 30 and have enjoyed researching my family roots. My mother’s side of the family remains the most elusive. As a student of history and library science, I find that my research is driven by my need to find out absolute facts and dates and relevance. But the satisfaction really comes when I stumble across an ancestor’s signature or personal artifact. I feel that I have been able to map out my grandfather’s life by dates and geography very accurately, but often find myself conflicted and unsatisfied because I don’t even know what his favorite color was. I think your book does an excellent job of reconciling these two things: the factual and the emotional aspects that really make up the whole of our family histories. Your account helped me realize that there does not have to be a nicely wrapped up ending to “complete” the story. That is real life after all. I believe our job is to continue the narrative where our ancestors left off and hopefully give our children a compelling (if not 100% accurate or complete) story to build on.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of “Annie’s Ghosts” and have recommended it to several folks already. Thanks for sharing.

Anchorage, AK

Edited: Jul 15, 2009, 6:26pm

Hi Kristi,

I've often said that I'm not a genealogist, I'm a storyteller. For me, genealogy is the route to uncovering the facts and artifacts that help me build a narrative. I want to see the forest, not just the family tree.

Genealogists and writers are like distant cousins: They resemble each other, but it's easy to tell them apart. I'm in awe of the discipline that genealogists bring to their craft. I admire their dedication to a well-understood (if unwritten) set of rules for pursuing, finding, sifting, confirming and verifying information, before they connect the dotted lines between a ggf (great-grandfather, in genealogist parlance) and a second cousin once removed. No need to be daunted, however. Genealogists are a welcoming bunch.

Thanks for the kind words about the book. Others have commented that Annie's Ghosts doesn't have a "neat" ending. One wrote, "Annie's Ghosts is a true story that reads like a true story." I liked that a lot. I favor the rough edges of memory.

Jul 15, 2009, 8:53pm

"I favor the rough edges of memory"

I love that.

I'm just dropping in to say I really enjoyed Annie's Ghosts as well and have since recommended and passed on my own copy to a few others.

My family and myself included have been exploring our own history and I have found it amazing the kind of information that can be uncovered. My grandfather who passed away a few years ago turned out to have an estranged twin brother (with multiple families) that we are just now learning of.

It is turning out that the stories left longest untold have been the most interesting.

Jul 15, 2009, 10:52pm

Welcome to LibraryThing Author Chat, Steve!

Did you write the first draft (or portions of the book) while you were still trying to find your mom's motivations?


Jul 15, 2009, 11:33pm

Hi Julie and Amber. Thanks for joining the chat.

Amber, you asked if I wrote the first draft while I was still trying to unearth my mom's motivations. I wrote the first two chapters (the ones that primarily took place in 1995 and 2000) after doing seven months of reporting. I included them in my book proposal that went out to publishers. After the book sold, I went back to reporting, including my search for more of my mom's friends or relatives.

I did find two more first-hand "witnesses" before I switched from primarily reporting to primarily writing in May 2007. My trip to Ukraine took place later, in the summer of 2007, but writing was my main focus during this intense period. Of course, as I was writing, small gaps in knowledge would emerge, sending me on smaller hunts to fill the holes.


Edited: Jul 16, 2009, 11:47am

Before I forget, I want to thank LibraryThing readers for your interest in Annie's Ghosts, which now sits on the virtual shelves of 142 members and has 75 reviews. That shows the power of the online community and its open sharing of opinions and information.

Jul 16, 2009, 12:51pm

Mr. Luxenberg,

It is good to see you here on Librarything. I read and reviewed your book on my blog The Eclectic Review last month. The story stays with me to this day and can only imagine the frustrations and challenges you ran into when dealing with the bureaucracy and paperwork by the mental health system.

I plan to take my copy of your book to my family reunion this weekend to loan out to my relatives.

It is a very memorable story because it doesn't have a "neat" ending it will stay with me for a long time.


Edited: Jul 31, 2009, 3:28pm

Dear Sharon,

Here's hoping that your loan will be so popular that your family members will want their own copies!

On the frustrations and challenges: If you haven't visited my website,, you might want to go there and click on my last blog entry, "The war between privacy and history." I discuss some of the issues regarding the difficulty of getting information and writing history as privacy laws become stronger.

These are two "goods" colliding, and that makes it all the more difficult to navigate the path between them.


Jul 16, 2009, 5:07pm

Hi Steve,

We exchanged messages at the time I wrote my review of Annie's Ghosts. One more thing your book has prompted me to jumpstart myself again is a family mystery of our own, that of finding out what happened to my Great-Grandfather's parents and if the rumours are true that he was raised by a grandmother. Maybe this time I'll be successful.

I'm old enough to recall the times when certain illnesses were just not talked about. Believe it or not, this included cancer at one time. It's hard to believe such things would have occurred in what was supposedly an "enlightened" world. Your book really touched me.


Jul 16, 2009, 8:59pm

Hi Steve,

I wanted to stop by the chat and say how much I enjoyed Annie's Ghosts. Yes, I would agree with your comment that you are a storyteller.... a very good one in my opinion!

While I have spent a number of years researching my family tree and can understand some of the bureaucratic hurdles you faced, it was your in depth research into the history of mental institutions of the time period that I found fascinating.


Jul 17, 2009, 10:56am

Dear Betty and Lori,

A couple of thoughts:

Betty, you commented on how mental illness was handled in the 1930s and 1940s, in a "supposedly 'enlightened' world." Some of what I learned was shocking to me, particularly how little protection was given to people who had been accused, before a court, of being mentally ill. As I wrote in Annie's Ghosts, "in calibrating this particular scale of justice, the state legislature (of Michigan) had put a heavy finger on the side of the courts, the medical profession, the asylum and the family."

Yet it's important, I think, that we not look back at that era wth disdain. Every generation, it seems to me, believes that it is doing better than the last. Every generation thinks that it is improving on what came before. The generation in the 1930s thought that, and we think that today. What will people think of us 70 years from now?

Lori, that's one reason why I share your fascination of the history of mental institutions. My aunt's 31 years straddled two very different eras, and during her time, a medical and legal revolution occurred that dismantled the large asylum system that had developed after Dorothea Dix's reform movement of the mid-19th century. She was trying to create an alternative to the prison-like conditions that housed the "insane" in her day. She didn't envision the kind of huge institutions that came to exist. I think she would have been amazed to hear that hospitals such as Eloise, my aunt's home, had 5,000 psychiatric patients.

Two good nonfiction books for people interested in the history of the mental health system: Great and Desperate Cures, by Elliot Valenstein, and The Mad Among Us, by Gerald Grob.


Jul 18, 2009, 3:05pm

Aside from all the other fascinating things I learned from Annie's Ghosts, I was probably most amazed at the size of the Eloise Hospital. It was a small town, really. And the profound sadness of the unmarked graves in its cemetery. Though you didn't make reference to her, I couldn't help thinking of Joe and Rose Kennedy's daughter, Rosemary, whose illness was kept secret and mischaracterized when it was referred to as "retardation". Her history and Annie's have so many parallels, right down to the unmarked grave. I was very moved by your determination to remedy that in Annie's case.

What's your next project?


Edited: Jul 19, 2009, 2:13pm

Dear Linda, and other LibraryThing members,

It's a beautiful, pleasant Sunday morning in the mid-Atlantic, breezy and sunny but not even close to hot, the kind of summer weather that makes my next project seem very far away.

I'm working on a couple of ideas for another book. The two I'm considering would combine my interest in history and social issues, while allowing me to use my journalistic skills and personal voice as a way to explore the subjects. That's vague, I know, but I'll reveal more when I've done enough reporting to have a firmer grasp on what I want to do.

Meanwhile, I've been speaking a lot on Annie's Ghosts. Eloise (the hospital outside where my aunt spent 31 years) often draws a good number of questions. Linda, you're right to compare it to a small town: At its peak in the 1930s and 1940s, it had more than 10,000 residents -- 5,000 psychiatric patients and 5,000 who were either infirm or homeless. It had 75 buildings, a police force, a fire department, a diary, a piggery and a farm operation that provided much of the food served in its kitchen, which was thought to be the largest institutional kitchen in the country.

Annie's Ghosts isn't a history of Eloise, but Eloise's history is told within its pages and is central to the story.


Jul 19, 2009, 9:28am

I have had Annie's Ghosts in my cart at Amazon to buy for a while. Books in my cart almost alwaysmake it home. After reading the posts by my fellow LT'ers, I will have to bump this one up the list. It looks fascinating. Steve, you are doing a great job of making LT members welcome in your thread. Thank you for that!
Enjoy your beautiful day!

Jul 19, 2009, 3:10pm

Maybe you should start a category: Books in My Amazon Cart... It might be similar to your LT shelf, but it's probably a bit more selective (because you're thinking of buying) -- the cream of your literary crop, so to speak.

I applaud LT for giving authors the opportunity to do these chats. It seems like a great way for readers to ask questions or make comments, as well as a great way for authors to connect with the people who matter most in spreading the word about books. Annie's Ghosts delves into a wide range of subjects -- immigration, mental health, family dynamics, the power of secrets and secrecy -- that could lead to a lively discussion, so don't be shy or reticient about expressing a view or posing a tough question.


Edited: Jul 20, 2009, 11:22am

Dear LT members,

NPR's On the Media carried an interview with me about Annie's Ghosts on its show this weekend. Some NPR stations run the show during the week or re-broadcast it, so check your local station's schedule. Or you can listen to it online by going to, and clicking on the play symbol next to the segment titled "The Child in White." It runs eight minutes, after a brief promo from WNYC, which produces it.

Meanwhile, I'm eager to hear from LT members with questions or comments.


Jul 20, 2009, 11:11am

Mr. Luxenberg,

It seemed to me that your research for Annie connected you more closely with many relatives. Is that so or would you have seen them/connected with them anyway?

Jul 20, 2009, 2:04pm

Dear whymaggie,

Annie's Ghosts had the added bonus of allowing me to spend time with relatives whom I had never met or had met only briefly when I was too young to remember them. I now have relationships with some of them that I probably wouldn't have had otherwise.

It's odd to say, but I also reconnected with my mom. The book gave me a rare opportunity to get to know her as a young woman. If you think about it, that period between our parents's adolescence and parerthood is the hardest for children to fathom. We're not born yet, and by the time we become old enough to care, our parents have become fixed in our minds as the older generation. They can never be young for us, no matter how many photos we might see of them in their twenties.

I got to know my mom as a 25-year-old. I was able, to a large degree, to recreate the world in which she lived, to find people who knew her back then, before marriage, before children. At some point, I realized that I felt closer to her, even as I probed her motivations for keeping her sister a secret. It was strange and exhilarating, all at the same time.


Jul 20, 2009, 2:41pm

There are times in your book when your mother is shown in a very unflattering light, though you clearly tried to protect her as much as possible by explaining the circumstances, etc.

In thinking back to the early 50s and the way that people dealt with my brother, who was crippled, I think I was able to sympathize with her more than some will be. I can remember someone asking whether my brother could talk and read. I tried to explain that his legs didn't work as well as ours, thus the braces on his legs, but that he had a very high intelligence and got better grades in school than I did. I also remember in high school that one of my classmates had a younger sister who was a Downs syndrome sufferer. She would bring her sister to after-school events frequently and we all were able to learn that she was a delightful spirit, even if she had challenges we could not even imagine.

I've often thought about your mother's position in grade school and high school and wondered how I would have handled it. I don't think I would have done any better. Though I would not have been worried about my friends attitudes, I was so selfish at that age that I'm sure I would have left my sister in the dust to fend for herself. In fact, in my family we were very clearly taught not to give my crippled brother any special treatment. My mother's theory was that in later life no one was going to give him any help so he'd better be able to do things on his own from the very beginning. So, I'm sure I would have gone my own way.

~ Maggie

Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 10:23am

Dear Maggie,

Your honesty shines through your comment. There was a clear division in my interviews between the older generations and the younger ones -- my mom's contemporaries were empathetic to her decision to keep her sister a secret (some knew that she had), while those who grew up later (during the years when attitudes toward disability began changing) were more reflexibly judgmental.

I tried not to pull any punches in telling the story, to be honest and yet neutral. Understanding, not judgment, was my goals in exploring my mom's motivations and the consequences to her.

Like your brother, my secret aunt had a physical disability -- a deformed leg -- that marked her as different. From what I pieced together, her leg defined her for the first eight years of her life and probably much longer. One woman, who lived on the same street, remembered her leg, and the cast/brace that she wore, but had no memory of knowing that Annie had been classified as slightly retarded.

She also remembered, with embarrassment, how she and the other children tended to ignore Annie. She described how my grandmother, a thin, slight woman, would carry Annie around her back. That image has remained with her, and now with me.


Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 4:20pm

Dear LT members,

I just came from an interesting lunch-time discussion at a mental health law organization in Washington, where we talked about the ever-changing, ever-evolving definitions of mental illness and disability, and how today's legal system handles the question of forced treatment.

The discussion reminded me that as long as the mind remains mysterious to us, every generation faces enormous challenges in determining what (if anything) to do in this field. Patient rights have become well-established over the past three decades, but several people in the discussion said that society's institutions -- police, courts, the medical establishment -- can still exercise a great deal of weight if they choose.

A very lively discussion that lasted 90 minutes and could have gone on a lot longer.


Jul 21, 2009, 7:39pm

So Steve, did you have an interest in mental health issues prior to learning about your Aunt?

Jul 21, 2009, 8:53pm

I can see how the definitions of mental illness and disability are still evolving. Steve, that sounds like a fascinating discussion, especially the topic on the question of forced treatment. My interest in the field comes from my educational background in Psychology, so I second whymaggiemay's question in the post above...

Jul 22, 2009, 10:20am

Dear Maggie and Lori,

In my journalistic life, I had (before learning about my aunt) no particular interest in mental health issues beyond the occasional story that comes up when you're the metro editor of a large daily newspaper (as I was in the early 1980s) and as an investigative editor for The Washington Post (my job from 1985 to 1996). As editor of The Post's Sunday Outlook section of commentary and opinion (my perch from 1996 to 2006), mental health was one of the many issues that we touched upon.

Personally, I had the perspective of a son -- being involved in my mom's hospitalization for two weeks in a psychiatric ward, so she could be monitored while receiving medication (as an emphysema sufferer, she was at slightly higher risk of experience respiratory distress, one of that medication's known but rare side effects).

I had only a vague idea of the history of mental health treatment in the United States before beginning my research for Annie's Ghosts. I had, like so many people, that image of the warehoused patient, forgotten in the asylum -- an image that while accurate, also obscures the complicated and textured history of the last two centuries. That history is one of the many threads that I stitched into Annie's Ghosts.


Jul 22, 2009, 6:13pm


I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. Your writing is wonderful and the story is fascinating. As you say, every family has secrets and you found a wonderful way to share your family's story with the rest of us. I do not know that I would have had the same understanding that you have of your mother if I were in your situation. You did a great job sharing your story and showing how you understand the possible reasons your mom had for keeping her secret.

I was interested in knowing whether you have kept in touch (or plan to keep in touch) with the many relatives and friends of your parents that you met during your research.


P.S. I plan on passing this book on to my mother-in-law who has been researching her family history for many years now. She has gone very far back with her own family and has now started doing research for others including myself. I know that she will love the book as well.

Edited: Jul 22, 2009, 9:18pm

Dear Denise,

Thanks for the kind words. I'm very much in touch with some of the people I met and interviewed -- I'm pleased to say that a number of them were in the crowd of 200 that came to hear me speak earlier this month in Detroit.

I think my mom's reasons weren't the same at every point in her life. She was a kind and generous person, the sort of person who would visit a sick friend or help someone in need, and yet she never visited her sister in the mental hospital. As long as she kept her sister, it was impossible to make those visits, and I suspect this was the single act that made her feel most guilty, and perhaps, most ashamed. Yet she went against her own personality, her own spirit of kindness, and kept the secret instead.

That's why I say in the book that her secret became her trap, her prison.


Edited: Jul 31, 2009, 3:29pm

LT members,

Authors write, occasionally and often with a jaundiced eye, about book tours/events. Certainly it's disappointing to speak to a handful of people in an unfamiliar city.

But book touring also can bring unexpected, delightful surprises, such as the one that came flying at me, out of my past, at a recent event outside of Detroit. It's a bit involved to recount here, but I wrote about it on my blog, under the title "The case of the mysterious jacket," which I invite you to read at my website,, or at my author page on


Jul 23, 2009, 4:24pm

Love that story Steve! so sweet :)

hometowns are very special, I think...

Jul 24, 2009, 8:31am

Dear Kathleen,

You're right about hometowns. No matter how large, they can be quite small. Not only did the widow of my high school social studies teacher come to that talk, but she came with a relative of my wife's -- a relative my wife has never met!


Jul 25, 2009, 2:25pm

I really enjoyed your book and have passed it on to others now. I also read a biography of Dorothea Dix immediately after reading Annie's Ghosts, which was really interesting, as well, and made me look at your book in a different light. Thank you for writing such a wonderful story!

Edited: Jul 26, 2009, 10:56am

Dear PokeyPuppy,

I appreciate your kind words. If you think others would be interested in the biography of Dorothea Dix, please feel free to post the title/author.

Other LT members: if you think there are books that relate to some of the themes in Annie's Ghosts, please share them. I'm thinking of a range -- memoirs and narratives about family history or family secrets, as well as books that delve into stories of immigration and mental illness.

For those looking for a novel rather than nonfiction, I would recommend The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I read it after finishing Annie's Ghosts, and that story of a family secret and a disabled child has stayed with me.


Jul 25, 2009, 7:40pm

Your book really opened my eyes regarding past attitudes on mental illness and explained some things to me. I have seen the shame still associated with mental illness in my husband's family.His sister was diagnosed with a mental illness in her early twenties. His parents let her be on her own and only dealt with her when she got really bad(an uncle found her on a corner in upstate NY muttering to herself.). Only then did they agreefor her to be committed for sometime so that these problems could be dealt with. Ever since she has been on medicines that must be finely calibrated. My in-laws have treated this person as if she was retarded and NOT suffering with mental illness. This treating of her as if she was a 12 year old has resulted in a stunted life. My in-laws have never in 35 years looked at their sisters and brothers and admitted that this woman has a mental illness so deep is the shame.
Right before receiving and reading your book I read The Lost: The Search for The Six Of The Six Million. So I was very interested in the part that dealt with your cousin's experiences in maybe the same general area of Poland during the Holocaust.
I think all the research you did into this family mystery is truly admirable.

Edited: Jul 31, 2009, 3:30pm

Dear MeenieReads,

Your account of your husband's family reveals one of the most profound truths about a severe mental illness -- its reverberating effects on the family as well as the person with the illness. It can become, as often does become, the defining factor in the family's dynamics. It certainly seemed to alter my grandparents, and my mom, and how they dealt with each other as well as with Annie.

You mentioned The Lost; A Search for Six of the Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn's book -- when I went to Ukraine, to the town that my grandparents left before WWI, I hired a translator/researcher to help me. As we exchanged introductory emails before the trip, I learned that he had done similar work for Mendelsohn. (The town, Radziwillow, was part of the Russian empire, then part of Poland between the wars before its occupation by the Soviets, then the Nazis until 1944, when the Soviets took control again.)

The cousin I wrote about in Annie's Ghosts, the one who survived the mass killings in Radziwillow in 1942 and later had a rift with my mom over my mom's secret, is still alive. At my talks on the book, I often get questions about her remarkable story. If you (and other readers) want to learn more about that part of the book, there are additional documents and photos on my website, Click on "About the Book" at the top of the home page, and then on "Behind the Book" from the list on the right-hand side.


Jul 26, 2009, 11:49am

Dear Steve:
Thanks for your response. You are so correct on the family dynamics.

I did go to your website and read the entire Washington Post Article on your cousin. Truly a remarkable story. The saying that truth is stranger than fiction certainly applies here. This true story reminded me very much of Pam Jenoff's The Kommadant's Girl where the main character does basically the same thing...working in a German headquarter's office right under the nose of the nazis in command of the area!


Jul 26, 2009, 12:14pm

Dear Meenie,

I'm not familiar with Pam Jenoff's book... I'll look it up! Thanks for telling me about it.


Jul 26, 2009, 1:07pm

I really enjoyed your book. I especially appreciated the light it shone on the subject of mental illness and society's attitudes toward it. Though much has changed since the 50's, there is still tremendous stigma attached to being mentally ill. Unfortunately, those that would have lived their lives shut up in an institution in past years have in many instances been relegated to living on the streets. Treatment of the mentally ill is not a priority. Mental illness is seen as either shameful or something that the person should be able to pull themselves out of. I believe bringing attention to this subject as your book has, will help to dispell the ignorance of some. Thanks.

Jul 26, 2009, 5:07pm

Dear Diane,

I did a fair amount of research into the treatment of the mentally ill over the past two centuries, especially in Michigan. It is an issue that most governors and state legislatures want to run from. In Michigan, the question of cost has dominated the discussion for the last 100 years.

Sometimes, something would happen to change public opinion (a celebrated crime by someone who had been in a public institution, for example), and that would derail efforts to make treatment more a priority.

What I found fascinating: Every generation thinks that it is doing better than the last. How will future generations judge this one? The huge asylums of the 1940s are gone, but having a substantial number of people living on the street can't be the answer either.


Jul 27, 2009, 4:53pm

Dear LT members,

I want to thank Abby for inviting me to contribute a piece to this month's State of the Thing newsletter.

I won't go into any detail on it (if I did, I'd need to issue a spoiler alert). Here's how Abby introduces the piece: "Author Steve Luxenberg offers his take on summer reading."


Jul 28, 2009, 9:35am

RE: Pam Jenoff's book...Actually those That Save us by Jenna Blum is a better read IMHO!


Edited: Jul 28, 2009, 11:05am

Dear Meenie,

Have you read by Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay? I just received it as a birthday gift.


Jul 28, 2009, 2:29pm

I should have said: If anyone has thoughts about Sarah's Key (no spoilers, please!), please feel free to chime in.... and, of course, about Annie's Ghosts.

Also, I received a lovely review on the website of one of Toronto's best independent booksellers, Ben McNally Books ( is his website). Glad to have Canada chiming in!


Jul 28, 2009, 6:50pm

Sarah's Key was a very good read in my opinion.. until the end. I was a bit let down by the end....but otherwise a good read.

I LOVED the Memory Keeper's Daughter.. although it was not really popular around here :)

Jul 28, 2009, 7:17pm

I can see that The Memory Keeper's Daughter prompted a difference of opinion among LT members. While not perfect (few books are), it has stayed with me, and that's one of my criteria for a book that I'm willing to recommend to others. Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty generated its share of controversy, but I loved that memoir for its honest, intimate portrayal of friendship. It, too, has stayed with me.

On the nonfiction side, I can still remember some details of C.D.B Bryan's Friendly Fire, his account of an Iowa family whose son was killed in Vietnam. I read it more than 30 years ago, but its relentless search for the truth about the son's (and how the results of Bryan's search affected the family) had a profound effect on my reporting and writing.

Staying power isn't the only way to judge a book (or to enjoy one), but it's one that I like -- which is why, when readers tell me that Annie's Ghosts has stayed with them long after the last page, I can't help but smile.


Jul 29, 2009, 8:05am

I don't remember.. do you have a list of books that you recommend on your site?
Mary Doria Russell does that ( love her.. ) and I have added those books to my shelves, read most..

My TBR's number in the hundreds.. just the ones I own.. hopefully I do have time to read them all :)

Edited: Jul 29, 2009, 8:31am


I haven't put a list of favorite books, or even the ones I've read, on my page. Too busy with book writing (and book promotion!) to carve out the time. It's on my "to-do" list, though.

According to the chat schedule, today is my final day. Instead of winding down, though, I'm looking forward to winding up -- eager for more questions about the book, or writing, or researching, or questions about the various issues raised by the book, or even journalism (my profession for the last 35 years) and how it's changing.


Jul 29, 2009, 10:05am

Yes,Steve I did read that book. I had not been aware of the horrible events that lead to thousands of jewish people being held in a stadium for days in Paris in 1942. This is mentioned in the book. I believe the French president apologized a few years ago. I thought Sarah's Key was a good read. I also recommend Gone To Soldiers by Marge Piercy. I plan to re-read this at some point in the future.

Jul 29, 2009, 9:37pm

Throughout Europe, there are buildings that the Nazis converted into links of their extermination chain, changing forever how those places were viewed. In Amsterdam, there was a theater that the Nazis used as the assembly point for deportation of the city's Jews to a transit camp elsewhere in the Netherlands and then to the camps in occupied Poland.

I visited the former theater, Hollandsche Schouwburg, last year -- it is now Amsterdam's Holocaust museum -- and saw how a place that had once given the community so much pleasure had become associated with terror and grief. Making it into a museum may be the best way to reclaim it.


Jul 30, 2009, 7:05am

Steve, think about peeking into other forums. We have several authors who participate. You might have some fun :)

Jul 30, 2009, 8:31am


I'll do that. Any particular forums that you'd suggest, where the discussion is lively and active -- and, of course, where the chatters might like to know about Annie's Ghosts? :)

Jul 31, 2009, 1:54pm

Just an update - Steve's chat has been so popular that we decided to extend it a week (until August 7th). So keep your questions coming!

Jul 31, 2009, 2:50pm

Thanks, Abby -- This is wonderful. Now I can tell my friends that, just like a Broadway show, I've been extended "by popular demand."

Well, at least by Abby's (of LT) demand.

Let's not disappoint her. There's much to chat about -- memoir writing (and how it's done), family history (and how to dig into it), family secrets (and how they affect us), identity (and how we seek one) immigration, mental health treatment, the Holocaust and any of the many other issues that come up in Annie's Ghosts.

The Nieman Narrative Digest (, an online site that offers information and ideas about narrative writing, published an interview with me today. One of the issues discussed there: Why wasn't I more angry with my mom for keeping her secret? You can read my answer -- perhaps that will prompt some questions or comments.


Edited: Aug 2, 2009, 9:26am

To jump start the chat, here's a portion of the interview on the Nieman site. It could provide food for thought, and comments:

Q: You struggle in the book with the fact that your mother hid a vital part of her life and her family history from her own children. Annie’s Ghosts communicates your grief, but I didn’t sense any anger, which was a little surprising.

A: Why am I not angry? It seems to me that anger comes out of something about yourself. When we’re angry, it’s because we’ve been wronged, or put in a bad situation by someone. I don’t think my mother’s situation is about me—it doesn’t center on me. How is this story about me? It’s mostly not. To twist the story so that it becomes “Why didn’t you tell me, Mom?” doesn’t make sense. The only moment in which that’s true is when she’s standing in front of me in the hospital saying, “You can’t leave me here.” It’s in her best interest to tell me then. That to me is where the grief is at. That’s painful for me—that she couldn’t tell me. But I’m not angry at her.

I wish I could explain it better. I have the emotion in the right place. It’s simply in the grief quadrant and the pain quadrant—not the anger quadrant. I don’t feel like my mother denied me any great experience. It would have been no picnic to know my aunt. She was ill. She was in a situation where she wouldn’t have wanted to see me.

I don’t have anger that my mom would do that to another person. Maybe I’m just too forgiving. It’s easy because she’s my mom to think that she had some sort of responsibility for her sister. But I think that's the wrong place to start, because it was really her parents who had that responsibility.

That's the end of the excerpt. If anyone has thoughts about this, feel free to share them.


Aug 7, 2009, 11:09am

I think that makes sense, in that anger is more likely when you are exploring a painful relationship than when you are exploring a loving one. When you have years of a loving relationship with someone who clearly has your best interests at heart, it is very hard to see them as a bad person in a situation. Since you know she is good, you can just explore why things happened the way they did without so much of an agenda.

I wanted to say that what I really loved about your book were the stories about your siblings, and the way you clearly demonstrated the great love you have for each other. It was very touching, and I felt privileged to see such wonderful relationships.

Edited: Aug 7, 2009, 12:01pm

Steve, if you click on the link to Annie's Ghosts and look to the right side of the page, it will say conversations. If you click on that number, you will see where people are talking about the book. Once you start chatting, you will find where you find it to be most enjoyable. :)

Aug 9, 2009, 6:52pm

Kathleen, thanks for the tip. I'll see you, and others, there.

Susan, you're not the only one who saw the book that way. One of my favorite moments while on book tour: I was in a book store, and an assistant manager (who had read Annie's Ghosts) said to me, "It's a love story."

I looked puzzled, I guess, so she said, "Not a love story of the usual kind, but a story in which there's so much love in the family, alongside the pain and guilt that came along with your mom's decision to hide her sister's existence."

That was gratifying to hear, because I didn't want to write one-dimensional portrayals or a narrative that was trapped within the secret.


Jan 13, 2010, 8:01am

thatnks guys for the link