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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Luxenberg, Steve: Annie's Ghosts

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

Steve Luxenberg's mother had always said--had indeed made a point of proclaiming--that she was an only child. So Luxenberg was surprised to discover toward the end of his mother's life that she had in fact had a younger sister, Annie, who grew up with her in their childhood home in Detroit. Annie was disabled--mentally impaired and perhaps mentally ill, and born with a bad leg that was subsequently amputated. She was institutionalized in 1940 at the age of 21, when Luxenberg's mother was 23. She would remain institutionalized for more than 30 years, until her death in 1972. During that time, apparently, Luxenberg's mother never visited Annie, and she never told her children--nor, quite possibly, her husband--about Annie's existence. Luxenberg began to investigate his mother's secret after her death, hoping to figure out why she had kept silent. While tracking down aging family members and long-lost acquaintances to ask about Annie, Luxenberg uncovers other secrets, and learns a lot more about his family than he had understood as a boy.

Although Luxenberg is writing about an ostensibly small piece of his family's history, his book covers a lot of ground. He discusses, among other topics, the history of Eloise Hospital, the psychiatric facility in which Annie spent more than half of her life, the history of psychiatric treatment in the U.S. and in Michigan in particular, Detroit's economy in the early 20th century, the execution of Jews in Radziwillow, Poland in 1941, the U.S. army's policies regarding psych cases during World War II, and so on. Luxenberg also writes about the progress of his own research, explaining the difficulties he had tracking down people and documents, for example. Some of the topics Luxenberg covers are fascinating (e.g., the Radziwillow segment), but some are really very dull. After a while, for example, one loses interest in how the author came by particular documents. And that's the trouble with the book: Luxenberg is an extremely thorough researcher, but he's included too much information in the book. A perfect example: In investigating his disabled aunt and the mores of the period she grew up in and his family's history, Luxenberg looked into his grandfather's (Annie's father's) life, which leads to a chapter about him and his experiences as an immigrant. Luxenberg writes about what conditions were like on the ship his grandfather came to the U.S. on, and goes so far as to look up the service records of that ship to see if it had been equipped with steerage quarters. Given the subject of the book, this really struck me as overkill.

There's a lot to like about Annie's Ghosts. The mystery at its core--why the author's mother kept her sister's existence a secret--is fascinating. Luxenberg is a good writer and, as I've said, a very thorough researcher. The story he has to tell is moving at times. But the book's pluses are obscured by the fact that it is over-detailed and over-long.

Comments

1.

Really interesting idea, and what an intriguing family secret. Great review, Debra - really piques my interest.

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