In My Mother’s House: Hazel Rochman

Growing up Catholic in the Chicago suburbs, Elizabeth wants to get back what her mother, Jenny, seems hell-bent on getting rid of – her faith, her family, her Jewishness. Jenny can’t bear to talk about all that, hates it that Elizabeth is dating a Jewish boy (Ezra is such an ugly name) and that Elizabeth told the people at church about her Jewish grandfather’s conversion to Catholicism before he escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. But as the mother confronts everything she wants to forget, she remembers her own rage at her father’s denial, his desperation to assimilate as an upperclass Austrian scholar to whom Hitler’s Kristallnacht was just an embarrassment, “a violent, noisy, anti-Jewish riot.” How could her father have left his mother behind when he escaped? It’s hard to write about obsession without being, well, repetitive. But as McMullan weaves together the narratives of mother and daughter, she dramatizes their survivor trauma and denial with haunting intensity. And the big questions are rooted in the story: Not where was God, but where was man?