Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this book, free of charge, from Harper Collins, via Edelweiss, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it

Rounding our our 'ghost ' theme for the day...I've got one more book for you!

A Reunion of Ghosts cover


How do three sisters write a single suicide note? 

In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit. The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.

As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.


In many ways this book is akin to a fable for adults, a story of family dysfunction, bad luck and tragedy and consequences. The sisters are smart and each is unique in her own way, yet they are connected to each other by their perceived family fate. Is it fate, or a oft-told tale that takes hold in minds filled with pain and despair?  Should children suffer from the sins of the fathers (and grandfathers?)? That is at the heart of the matter and the three sisters each approach the thought differently, with their own humor and charm. It is an interesting book that will leave you thinking (as fables always do), and it is another unique qualifier for History Thursday, so be sure to add it to your 'must read' list!

About the Author:

Judith Claire Mitchell, the author of The Last Day of the War, is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, she currently lives in Madison with her husband, the artist Don Friedlich.

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