|Inventing Memory : A Novel of Mothers and Daughters
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Inventing Memory : A Novel of Mothers and Daughters is
the epic of a Jewish family in America, told through the stories of four generations of
women: from the turn of the last century to the early years of the twenty-first century.
The first unforgettable heroine is the matriarch, Sarah Solomon, born in the 1880's in
Russia, propelled out by a pogrom. She comes to America using her dead twin's precious
steamship ticket, arriving in America circa 1905--a world of bowler hats, elevated
railways, Irish cops, and labor ferment. From humble beginnings as a photo-retoucher,
Sarah establishes herself as a renowned portrait painter in New York. She lives in an
unorthodox menage-à-trois with two men--one a landsman
named Lev Levitsky, one a proper WASP named Sim Coppley and moves between an uptown
Edith Whartonesque world of New York society and a downtown Jewish world of anarchists and
Her daughter Salome, born in New York City circa 1912, carries the family's story
forward into the twenties, thirties and forties.
Salome Levitsky is a flapper, a child of the roaring twenties. Always the rebel, she
sails to Paris at seventeen. In Salome's journals and letters home, we meet everyone from
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Edith Wharton. We also learn of
her affair with Henry Miller and her daring first novel. Salome's life changes utterly
when in Paris she discovers one of her mother's best kept secrets about her past.
Salome's daughter, Sally turns out to be an extremely talented musician who becomes a
world-famous folksinger in her teens, but she is hardly the tough survivor her mother and
grandmother are. She is the weak link that demonstrates the strength of the rest of the
chain. Fame strikes her like lightning in the late sixties but with it come all the other
late-sixties plagues--addiction to dangerous drugs, hubris, grandiosity, the delusion of
being the epicenter of the universe.
We meet Sally through the narrative of her daughter, Sara, born in 1978, trained as an
historian, and in the process of researching family histories at the Council on Jewish
History in New York. She comes to understand the nature of memory, the way we all both
invent and assimilate our ancestors. In chronicling the women in her family, she also
remakes her own future.
Inventing Memory turns out to be Sara's story and the story of women in the
"Rich. . .brimming with trenchant observations about the eternal man-woman
--New York Times Book Review
"Fans of her first novel, "Fear of Flying," will welcome Jong's most
passionate novel in years."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Jong uses her heroines to probe the nature of Jewish identity, the changing
role of women, and the meaning of history itself."
--The Boston Globe
"Routinely, readers look to Jong for an honest view of women's interior lives, a salute to strong women and feisty sex. In Inventing Memory, Jong comes through on all counts." --St. Louis Post Dispatch
"An unambiguous triumph. . .Inventing Memory is an astonishing
"Here is the Jewish story that joins the other stories, the Latino story, the
Italian story, the Irish story, the Asian story, the Afro-American story to form the
chorus of the many voices that are singing and enriching America."
"A sexy tale celebrating the strength and creativity we inherit from our
"Ms. Jong's writing sparkles with wit and intelligence all the way."
"Mothers. Daughters. Men. Sex. No one mixes this potent cocktail with greater
glee than Erica Jong. . .Juicy."
--Ladies Home Journal
"Playful and ambitious."
--New York Daily News
"[A] heartfelt work."
PEOPLE WHO CAN'T SLEEP
Death does not knock
at the door.
Sometimes, in dreams, my first-born son
comes back to me. I think he is my guardian angel. "Mama,
mamichka, mamanyu, mamele," he says, "let
me warn you..." And then he tells me something
about some man in my life, or some business deal--and
always it turns out that he is right, though I never
quite remember his words when I awake. He speaks in that
dream language of the dead. His presence itself is a
warning. I can't remember his voice either, but I do know
what he looks like: he wears a tall black silk hat, a
fur-lined silk pelisse. His cloak is trimmed with sable.
He has a long beard--he who never learned to walk, let
alone to grow a beard. He is a man--who was always only a
baby--but that baby smell clings to his sweet neck, and
in the dream I know he is both baby and man for all
eternity. I have lost him and yet I have not lost him. He
lives in a country to which only death provides the key.
I had come home to Sukovoly from Odessa
where I was apprenticed to a photographer, retouching
sepia portraits of the gentry. Only seventeen and as
foolish about boys as I was smart about pictures, how
could I know I was pregnant? How could I know how I got
that way? Another long story for another rainy night.
When my Mama realized what was
happening to me, she raved and screamed and tore her
hair. Then she calmed down. "With babies come
blessings," she said, murdering some proverb. And
she got excited about her first grandchild.
He was such a sweet baby, my David, my
Dovie, my little man. He latched onto my breast and
sucked as if all the world were in my nipple and he meant
to devour it. But that night the Cossacks came and we hid
in Malka's barn, I knew that my life and Mama's and my
sister Tanya's and my cousin Bella's and my little
brother Leonid's all depended on silence. So when my
darling Dovie started to whimper, I took out my breast
and crammed it in his mouth, hearing him suck, suck, suck
and be silent.
My heart was beating like a drum, my
breath was almost held with fear, the metallic taste of
terror was in my mouth as if I were drinking from a rusty
cup put down into a cold clear well. I was praying with
my whole soul for all those lives (including mine and
his), and for a while God must have heard, for the baby
sucked and sucked and all I could hear was the pounding
of my own heart. But then the little wiggling one
squirmed and began to whimper. He needed to be held
upright. He needed to be burped. I was not sure I could
do this without betraying us all. Biting my tongue, I
carefully raised him to my shoulder, patted his little
back and held him until he gurgled up from his depths a
noisy air bubble and then he spit sour milk over my
breast and my shoulder.
The Cossacks had been stomping around
below us, sticking their bayonets or swords or whatever
they had into bales of hay but when the baby started to
whimper they also stopped and listened. Then there was no
sound but their boots dragging the hay with a sort of
swishing. I clapped the baby on my breast so fast I might
have been a gunfighter drawing for a shootout in one of
those silent movies they had when I first came to
America. The baby sucked and sucked again, and I very
quietly let the air return to my lungs and felt them
expand beneath the baby's moving mouth. When he became
quiet and seemed to sleep, I did not notice, because of
the ruckus and screaming down below. The Cossacks had
caught a calf and were running him through with their
horrible instruments and he was making wild animal
noises, almost the noises of a child--a child who would
never nurse again. It was only when the Cossacks had gone
galloping off to the next slaughter, the next shtetl,
that I realized my boy did not draw breath.
Later, I sat dumb for two weeks, neither eating nor
sleeping, staring into the middle distance, but seeing
nothing. I could not cry or scream or even speak. And
mama brought me soup and said that many mothers who had
the strength to kill their babies lived to give birth and
love again, and that her mother had known no less than
three women who had put their hands over their babies'
mouths in just such circumstances. One died. One was made
strange for life. And one limped like an idiot. This made
me feel worse, not better. I had not the will to say, "Mama,
I did not choke him. I only nursed him." But
really I cannot remember every motion I made in that dark
barn with the rats scuttling and the Cossacks stomping
and my terror that once again my little Dovie would
whimper and doom us all.
What does not kill you makes you
stronger, goes the proverb. And surely losing my
first-born angel made me know how hard the world is and
that life is no picnic.
But Dovie comes back to me again, a
grown man with angelic inky baby eyes and a full beard,
whenever I need him most. Why he had to go ahead of me to
the other world I will never understand, but in some way
he is a herald. He watches over my life.
"He is an angel," Mama
had said, "and we are alive."
I hated her for thinking I had killed him, but
perhaps that is what I thought myself. I will never
really know until I meet my son again in the other world.
It was not only his death that caused
me to go to America. It takes the sacrifice of at least
three men to set a woman on her road.
A week later the Cossacks came back and
burned down the shul and everyone in it--including
my twin brother Yussel--may he rest in peace--and my
father of blessed memory. Yussel already had the precious
ticket to go to America. Despite her grief, my Mama
dressed me in my brother's clothes--though it was
forbidden--gave me his ticket and ordered me to go to
America. That was the sort of woman my Mama was. Of
course, I was to bring them all to the Golden Land as
soon as I could.
"You are the man of the family
now," she said, giving me permission for the
rest of my life.
Death can be a blast of courage, fuel
for a journey you are afraid to take. Death can make you
seize whatever courage you have. And it was the force of
these three deaths that propelled me across the perilous
border, across the dark continent on foot, through
haystacks alive with biting insects, through breakfasts
and dinners of sour black bread, through humiliating
searches and sea-sick nights that seemed to go on
forever. It was Dovie's death--and my brother's and my
father's--that took me across the sea and deposited me in
a basement flat in skyless New York right next to a coal
vault where the dumping and shifting of the coal
substituted for the sounds of the crickets on a starry
All the stories that have ever been
told are the stories of families--from Adam and Eve
onward. When I think of my child and her children
(including my darling great granddaughter Sara) and how
they live, I realize that no leap of empathy can make
them understand how close to the bone we were on that
journey, on that crossing, in that coal black flat below
ground. My kinder have lived in London, Lugano, Venice,
Hollywood, Montana, Manhattan--nothing's too good for
them. Interest rates they worry about--and development
deals and final cut. They collect first editions,
Georgian silver, polo ponies,contemporary art. They
accumulate heavy things that cannot be moved in a pogrom.
This is a measure of how secure they feel. They do not
expect that the Jews will be trapped in Benedict Canyon
as in the Warsaw ghetto. They do not expect to be chased
over the Rockies as over the Pyrenees. They are
complacent, their troubles are psychological. I made them
that way. I made them secure--I with all my insecurity.
Or perhaps it was Dovie; perhaps he is the guardian angel
of the whole family.
Now available in paperback
A Novel of Mothers
(U.S.A. & Canada)
Of Blessed Memory
Per i lettori italiani:
visitate il sito di
Erica Jong in Italia