Just a preliminary note - I won this through a first reads giveaway. I don't think that this in any way influenced my opinion of the book.
After his mother’s death, the author discovers that she had a sister, who was institutionalized in her early 20’s – a closely guarded secret. His mother had always emphatically stated that she was an only child. This discovery shakes him up – suddenly, his whole picture of his mother’s life and her character is turned upside down.
The author is a journalist, so he has more knowledge than many of us would have about how to find information to pursue this story. His research leads him to re-connect with family members he didn’t really know and to find out a lot about how the mentally ill/mentally and physically disabled were treated . He also discovers other family secrets as he goes along.
There is a lot of information in this book about larger issues as well – treatment of the mentally ill/physically and mentally disabled, the eugenics movement, World War II, the history of Detroit, the Holocaust, the immigrant experience in America. At times, that annoyed me a bit – I wanted to get back to the main story. However, while sometimes this seemed like side tracks, overall I think it provided the big picture, within which this particular story took place – and it was interesting to learn something about all these topics, in a readable discussion that was illuminated by the specifics of the main story.
This is a must read, if the subject matter interests you – family history and family secrets, as well as the larger issues that come into the picture. It’s one that gets you thinking – the whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking “what if I found out that my mom actually had a sibling that I never knew about?” Or, more generally, what happens when you find a family secret that changes your whole picture of your family?
The subject matter is interesting, and the book was a pleasure to read. I particularly liked the fact that the author did not try to distance himself at all – this book is also about him, and how he reacted to this discovery and the search. For me, this was a 5 star read – fascinating subject, well written, and made me think.