Inspired by Holocaust-Era Letters, a Novelist Examines Inherited Trauma
Send for me
By Lauren Fox
“Children of immigrants are anthropologists from our own families,” Lauren Fox writes in an address to readers at the end of her new novel, “Send for me.” “We are participant-observers of the cultures in which we live, but she will never be with us.” In many ways, “Send for Me” is actually an anthropological excavation; Its prejudices are many and sometimes spread, but it is completely influenced by the endless fascinating question of inheritance. How many of our stories – and which parts – are truly ours?
“Send for me” delves into the history of a single family spanning four generations and two continents. This is Fox’s fourth novel, which she acknowledges has a fair amount of autobiographical impact. (She notes that the earliest iteration of the story was a memoir she wrote for her master’s thesis; excerpts of letters scattered through the text were written by Fox’s great-grandmother.) And, overall, The book is a real achievement – beautifully. Written, deeply felt, tender and thoughtful.
The primary story is that of Annelis, a young Jewish woman from 1930s Germany who is coming of age – and falling in love – as her city is becoming irresponsible due to the rise of anti-Semitism. She eventually moves to the United States with her husband and young daughter, leaving behind her parents and creating a new life for her family in Milwaukee. The fox’s prose is rhythmic and grand, and the paintings he paints of Annelis’s life – and all that is lost – are largely textured. Physical Description The story of Chetan Annelise – the sharp slap of a mother’s elbow, the disturbing squish of a faux welcome mat, a part of the underside of a skull that divides two piglets – as well as the curious and often painful emotional description: “That ever Can’t accept it, having escaped with his life, can never accept how much it hurts to lose a lot of good things … what kind of person mourns Things When many of his dear ones are ashes? “
The story is patient, generous, even momentarily restless. Fox takes her time in life, saying that Annelis will be left behind in the end, younger mother-daughter conflicts, chronic female friendships, young hearts, courtship and marriage progress and, ultimately, pregnancy. The talk of change between the characters, allows us to glimpse in the mind of Anneliese’s mother, father and husband: “Later he would marvel at the small slices of his good fortune: that they fell in love before sinking in fear”. Bones. … It was a gift. Some events reduce you, change your fundamental structure. Later, he would not trust police officers; He will not follow the fourth date of the July parade. … that’s what they will become. But when they fell in love, they were just what they were. “
Half a century later, Annellis’ 28-year-old granddaughter, Claire, is in Germany on a troop of old letters written by her mother to Annelis in Milwaukee. The letters serve as a kind of metronome through the novel, punctuating two story lines at intervals and tethering them – if sometimes tenths – together: Annelise is getting them in real time, As her parents await heroism, and read them in translation. Some 50 years later.
Claire is not introduced to the novel a quarter of the way, and her voice is not quite a welcome interruption. Her story seems comparatively anemic, and it is difficult to understand how deliberate it is – of course, whom to marry and decisions to pursue a career naturally compared to those faced by her ancestors in Germany Less serious, but it raises the question of why we spend so much time with him on the page. His aimlessness (“a human cloud, in fact, is just floating around”) is theoretically interesting. It invites us to consider how someone living in material comfort can find happiness while knowing all that was sacrificed by him before he was able to. is How she struggles with the burden of happiness – inherited trauma – but is not adequately explored.
In her note to readers, Fox describes Claire’s story as “about a young woman … trying her life apart from her history.” And while this is true in the most basic sense, I wish that Claire’s narrative was either scaled back or extended a bit more. There are indications that she is already familiar with her past, but she is more fixated on whether she should commit to her current romantic interest. We are offering the beginning of fruitful threads – for example, Claire’s fierce relationship with her mother, which is what we have seen of previous generations of mothers and daughters, once (we told each other) “an ancient Refuge from Sorrow ”) – but no one feels fully developed.
These shortcomings are more noticeable due to the vividness of Annelis’s story, which resonates so emotionally that one is sad to turn that page and not find it there. And this is the major achievement of “Send For Me”: its vivid portrayal of a family’s heartbreak, its moving and reconstruction.