Seventeen-year-old Rhea Farrell carries the scars of a childhood accident in which she lost her arm. But she also carries scars that aren’t so visible—the loss of a mother she hardly remembers, the impact of her father’s drinking and her confusion and pain around accepting her sexuality.
When Rhea runs away, she turns to the person she always wished she could confide in—her mother. And just like she used to do as a little girl, Rhea starts to write her letters—to tell her things she can’t tell anyone else, to share her fears, to ask for help. Rhea’s journey on the streets of New York brings her deeper into her mother’s past where she uncovers buried family secrets. And as she finds out more about the woman her mother truly was, Rhea also discovers just what kind of woman she wants to be.
“It’s a powerhouse of emotion. My heart is now stretched into new shapes.”
—Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Stonewall Award-winning author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
“Heavy and intense, this book will make readers confront their own senses of identity.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A heartbreaking story about the challenges of trusting, healing, and saying goodbye.”—School Library Journal
Award-winning poet and prose writer Rita Gabis was born into a family of Eastern European Jews on her father’s side and first-generation Lithuanian Catholics on her mother’s side. Both sides of her family were beloved to her.
As a child, Gabis was told the story of her Lithuanian Catholic grandmother’s capture by the Soviets during Stalin’s massive purges in the spring of 1941, of her torture and years spent in several Siberian gulags. Five years ago, she learned of another dimension to her family story, when she was blindsided by the discovery that between 1941 and 1943 her beloved maternal grandfather served as the chief of security police under the Gestapo in the Lithuanian town of Švenčionys. During the fall of 1941, eight thousand Jews were murdered over the course of three days in the nearby killing field of Poligon and the local Polish population was hunted down over the following year.
Compelled to uncover the truth about her grandfather’s collaboration and learn as much as she could about her Lithuanian grandmother’s ordeal, Gabis embarked on a long journey of discovery, beginning at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and propelling her across four countries where she conducted rare, dramatic interviews with survivors and witnesses to Soviet and German occupations, including members of her own extended family in Lithuania.
The resulting scholarship and first-hand accounts fill the pages of her engrossing, lyrical memoir A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth (Bloomsbury 2015).
“Engrossing… An eloquent testimony to the war’s enduring, violent impact.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Intense, moving…a deeply personal and important addition to Holocaust literature.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Heartfelt…Gabis paints an engrossing portrait of the snake-pit of ethnic animosities in wartime Lithuania, and of the intimate horrors of the Holocaust.”—Publishers Weekly
“In this intricate and intimate journey Rita Gabis brings macrocosmic Holocaust horror into the microcosm of our dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms—a noble feat, one you will not soon forget.” —New York Journal of Books