A miraculous lesson in courage and recovery, Bending Toward the Sun tells the story of a unique family bond forged in the wake of brutal terror. Weaving together the voices of three generations of women, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and her mother, Rita Lurie, provide powerful—and inspiring—evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, relevant to every culture in every corner of the world. By turns unimaginably devastating and incredibly uplifting, this firsthand account of survival and psychological healing offers a strong, poignant message of hope in our own uncertain times.
Rita Lurie was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic, subsisting on scraps of raw food. Young Rita watched helplessly as first her younger brother then her mother died before her eyes. Motherless and stateless, Rita and her surviving family spent the next five years wandering throughout Europe, waiting for a country to accept them. The tragedy of the Holocaust was only the beginning of Rita's story.
Decades later, Rita is a mother herself, the matriarch of a close-knit family in California. Yet in addition to love, Rita unknowingly passes to her children feelings of fear, apprehension, and guilt. Her daughter Leslie, an accomplished lawyer, media executive, and philanthropist, began probing the traumatic events of her mother’s childhood to discover how Rita’s pain has affected not only Leslie’s life and outlook but also Leslie’s daughter’s, Mikaela’s. A decade-long collaboration between mother and daughter, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust remains in the hearts and minds of survivors, influencing even the lives of their descendants. It also sheds light on the generational reach of any trauma, beyond the initial victim. Drawing on interviews with the other survivors and with the Polish family who hid five-year-old Rita, Leslie and Rita bring together the stories of three generations of women—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—to understand the legacy that unites, inspires, and haunts them all.
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Thanks to Julie at FSB for sending me Bending Toward the Sun to read and review.
Bending toward the sun is the act of taking your life and your emotions and your history and turning it to the positive. It is learning to live amidst all that has happened. Sometimes when the history is as intense as being a Holocaust survivor that is easier said than done.
Ruchel "Rita" Gamss Lurie was a small child when her Jewish family was forced to hide in a farmhouse attic in Poland to stay alive. For two years she endured hunger, fear, confusion, and extreme loss. That loss stayed with her and affected her entire life. This novel follows first Rita, then her daughter Leslie and then briefly discusses Rita's granddaughter (Leslie's daughter) Mikaela. It also gives occasional glimpse into the lives of other members of the family who were affected. It weaves through their lives and shows us how the fears and anxieties of one generation can be passed to the next and can affect a family for many, many years.
I was hooked on this book about two words into reading. Not only does this book open your eyes to the horrors of the Holocaust, but it delves into relationships at a very intimate level. While reading Rita's story of hiding in the attic it felt so intense. I wept at the loss of her mother and brother, and I think it will stay with me for quite a long time. She bared her soul in every way. I felt at a complete loss. It is so difficult to read this and know it is not fiction and that there is nothing that can be done to take back what happened to this child and her family. I even feel as if I am rambling a bit in my review, because I just can't put my emotions quite in order. After discussing her time in the attic Rita then takes us through her life after her freedom. Freedom from persecution yes, but freedom from the fears and anxieties she will suffer for the rest of her life - absolutely not. Rita will always cling to her husband and her children. She will always fear that one day death will come to take one of them or her away unexpectedly. She will also always wonder if she is worthy of love and a good life.
Leslie grew up knowing that her mother was a Holocaust survivor. It was still quite fresh to her mothers generation and a part of all their lives. Leslie found that she suffered from wanting to save her mother from everything. She threw herself into so many extracurricular activities to prove her worth and the worth of her family. She states,
"My birth seemed a miracle, which motivated me to make the most of it. I would strive to mend the damaged world I inhabited, to make it good and just again,not only so I could feel safer but to add meaning to Mom's survival."
She and her mother were close, but at times unhealthy in their dependency on one another. Leslie ached for independence,but would draw herself back in on her own if not done by so Rita. As an adult Leslie was successful in business and found a wonderful husband. She vowed to create more independence in her children, but still clung to the need to save and protect her own mother. Little did Leslie know that her own child would suffer from separation anxiety so intense that pushing her to independence would be futile. In completing research she found that later generations of individuals who suffered intense trauma such as the Holocaust can be born with this innate fear. The need to cling to family and feelings of severe anxiety at separation.
One of the most touching portions of this novel is an essay written by 12 year old Mikaela. She sums up her family and their history and present emotions with the intelligence of an adult - but maybe only able to be seen through the eyes of a child. She questions how the Holocaust could have happened, but also acknowledges that the "world often is stupid" and it could happen again. She discusses her fears and anxieties and those of her mother and grandmother. I was brought to tears by her words and found myself shaking my head yes in agreement to so much she had to say. I wish I could write it all out on my page for you to read, but it is much too long and is more appreciated if you have read the entire novel first.
I think this novel was written to record a family history and to provide healing to three generations of women. These are women who love one another and are proud of their Jewish heritage, but have rips in their being from the past that occurred beyond their control. They are resilient and intelligent and inspiring. I would encourage anyone and everyone to read this novel. We all know Anne Frank and I think it is time we know Rita Lurie and not only what happens in the attic, but to the life of the child and her future family when they have to try and stand tall beyond the attic.