University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Haunted by the Holocaust and Other Tales

It's Minnesota Alumni's quarterly books roundup.

Lauren Fox (M.F.A. ’98) was always aware of a tragic backstory behind her grandparents’ move from Germany to the United States in the 1930s, but she never knew the full extent of it. Eventually, while in graduate school at the U of M, she unearthed some correspondence between her grandmother and great-grandmother and asked a German professor to translate it for her. Fox’s maternal grandparents had managed to leave Germany, but their senior family members were compelled to remain there as life became increasingly dangerous for Jewish citizens. Although her grandmother tried everything that she could think of to obtain visas and travel permission for her parents, in the end nothing worked.

For 20 years Fox struggled with how to use those letters— desperate, heartbreaking—in her writing. After rejecting the idea of a memoir, she has now beautifully incorporated excerpts in her latest novel, Send For Me (Knopf). In it she tells the story of Annelise, who with her husband and young daughter, left behind all she knew in Feldenheim, Germany, for the chance to start a new life in Milwaukee.

The book skillfully braids together the stories of Annelise, a baker’s daughter who fled Germany with her small family in 1938, and Clare, her all-American granddaughter, who is trying to find the right work and the right man in modern-day Milwaukee. Fortunately, the sections about Annelise are far more numerous than those about Clare because they are also far more compelling and vividly written.

Fox is a talented writer and she skillfully evokes both the increasing terror of 1930s Germany and the terrible slog of immigrants trying to forge a new life in a strange land. This book is a page-turner and a literary triumph, yet its most dramatic and moving bits are the real letters from Fox’s great-grandmother. Her pain in being separated from her only child and grandchild and her growing desperation at being caught in Nazi Germany come through so clearly in these excerpts: “I live constantly in my thoughts of you,” “If only I could see her for five minutes,” “I think that things don’t look too good here,” “For now I have nothing more to say. I can’t get my thoughts together properly.”

And the rest …

For a novel set closer to home, check out the highly readable coming-of-age novel Shoulder Season (St. Martin’s Press) by Christina Clancy (B.A. ’91). Its protagonist is the appealing Sherri Taylor, a small-town girl who lands a job as a Playboy Bunny at the now-defunct Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Although she has been told she isn’t college material, Sherri turns out to be a thoughtful, poetry-quoting organist who is shaking her (bunny) tail for the money. She ends her summer job with far more than cash, learning some tough life lessons along the way.

To enter the lively world of a real young woman (with far more vocational direction), look no further than Gabriela Zonenshine (M.P.H. ’21), author of Wild Vet Adventures: Saving Animals Around the World With Dr. Gabby Wild (National Geographic Kids). Dr. Wild (Zonenshine’s nom de plume) earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Cornell University and now travels the globe as a wildlife veterinarian for National Geographic. This richly photo-illustrated book is an animal-loving kid’s delight, complete with sections on beasts from around the world and such compelling chapters as “My Scariest Story” (doing dental work on a jaguar).

For the voice of a man who spent his life in more familiar wild country, seek out A Private Wilderness: The Journals of Sigurd Olson (University of Minnesota Press), edited by David Backes. Backes previously wrote a well-received biography of Olson, also published by University of Minnesota Press, called A Wilderness Within. Sigurd Olson spent his life living on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Ely, Minnesota, teaching at the community college, advocating for BWCA preservation, and writing the books that made him famous. These journals represent his early literary efforts, before publication of his seminal work, The Singing Wilderness, in 1956.

The humble bumblebee is every bit as endangered today as the BWCA was in Olson’s time—and today. To educate a child about the importance of these pollinating insects and our own responsibilities in the natural world, there is no better book than Begin With a Bee (University of Minnesota Press) by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Phyllis Root, with colorful and charming illustrations by Claudia McGehee.

Saving the BWCA and the bumblebee are important ways to maintain vital ecosystems. A rarely considered new way, argues James E. Mills (M.A. ’84, Ph.D ’92), is to create American pilgrimage routes. In Pilgrimage Pathways for the United States: Creating Pilgrimage Routes to Enrich Lives, Enhance Community, and Restore Ecosystems (North Atlantic Books), Mills asks why our younger nation has no treks to compare to Spain’s Camino de Santiago or India’s Banaras. While not going so far as to stipulate specific paths that might be built, he does suggest principles, considerations, and possible obstacles to undertaking such an enterprise.

Another kind of exploration can be found in Learning to Disclose: A Journey of Transracial Adoption (Peter Lang) by Joni Schwartz (B.S. ’76) and Rebecca Schwartz. Written as a form of mother-daughter dialogue between Joni and Rebecca—who was adopted from Haiti at age 9—this book takes a deep look at the evolving personal and racial identity work required of a Black woman raised in a white home, as seen through the lens of one family.

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