After yesterday's negative book review I felt compelled to present a positive alternative. Last year I completed Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg (Hyperion, New York, 2009), an outstanding work in this genre. Near the end of his mother's life, newspaperman Steve Luxenberg discovers that the long-held family assumption that she was an only child may be untrue. The work follows Steve in his inquiry which in turn is a typical family history quest. He interviews relatives, visits sites important to his family, follows leads on various documentation, and queries the government. This last being perhaps the most interesting as he navigates the hurdles the bureaucracy has created, supposedly in the name of privacy, that prevent even close family members from reaching the truth, as well as where the government has dropped the ball on caring for the records (and remains) of those they seek to help.
It is written in the first person, but personal politics and opinions are not an issue nor even see the light of day, especially about people and issues unrelated to his search. Steve stays fully focused on the task at hand, although his personal remorse over the treatment of his ancestor and her records does come to the surface, as well as his personal feelings about his parents, his siblings, and other relatives. And like any good writer, he makes us feel what he feels.
The book reads as much like a detective story as anything. His experience as a journalist is evident, as he masters both primary and secondary sources. But there are historical backgrounds relevant to the story that are in turn educational, in particular how society has in the past treated classes of people perceived to be less persons.
The book has extensive notes, an epilogue and an index, all of which proved valuable. But as a someone actively involved in genealogy and family history myself, what I really got the most out of the book was encouragement. The way he overcame the challenges and was able to reach reasonable and informative conclusions gives me hope in my work.
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin W. Walker