A Jewish woman escapes from Germany with her husband and baby daughter on the cusp of World War II. Decades later, can her granddaughter escape the lingering effects of her family’s trauma?
A terrifying knock on the door. A pounding heart. A woman clutches her baby in the dark, seeks out the “reassuring shape” of her sleeping husband, then thinks, “They will take him, too. They’ll take all of it, everything and everyone she has ever loved. In an instant. A flash.” Fox’s partly historical novel about a German Jewish family riven on the cusp of the Holocaust begins with this nightmare. While readers are immediately reassured that, for the woman, Annelise, fear will recede and life will go on, a sense of foreboding shadows this bittersweet intergenerational tale of love and trauma, casting it in poignant chiaroscuro. Fox’s novel—subtle, striking, and punctuated by snippets of family letters—tracks Annelise, who works alongside her devoted, kindhearted parents in their family bakery in a small German city, from first love to first heartbreak to marriage to motherhood. Against Annelise’s warm, quiet, tasteful domestic existence swirl the anger, ugliness, and brutality of growing anti-Semitism, ultimately crashing into it in the form of a brick thrown through a window. Annelise is lucky to escape to America with her husband, child, and a close friend. But although she is able to find safety and start a life in a new place with her young family, her parents are not so lucky. Cut to modern-day Milwaukee: Annelise’s granddaughter, Clare, is a young woman held fast by familial love, loyalty, and history as she struggles to move toward romantic love, independence, a sense of purpose. When Clare discovers a neglected cache of family letters and has them translated, she begins to see the invisible emotional scars she carries and to understand how the sadness and pain in her family’s past may be impeding her own future happiness. Fox has imbued this deeply personal, ultimately hopeful novel, which she explains in an author’s note is based on her own family’s story, with emotion, empathy, and an essential understanding of the complicated bonds between generations and the importance of reckoning with the past in order to embrace the future.
An intimate, insightful, intricately rendered story of intergenerational trauma and love.