Book Review: Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg (9781401322472)

ef6915d875944e459394d375551417941414141“Without really trying, I have become a collector of other families’ secrets.” –Steve Luxenberg.

Steve Luxenberg’s memoir reads like a mystery.  In the Spring of 1995, Steve finds out that his mother, Beth, had a sister, Annie, who was mentally and physically disabled.  This and other family secrets unfold in a number of shocking revelations and frustrating dead ends.

His story explores the history of mental institutions and how those patients had fewer rights than criminals.  It explores the life of poor Jewish immigrants who tried to make ends meet the best way they knew how by sacrificing things they held dear.  Most importantly it is a personal story of a man who wants to find answers to get closure from a life of secrets.

Steve is a journalist for The Washington Post and the perfect person to do research for his families’ story.  Through interviews, letters, documents, and hospital records he traces Annie’s history which kept this reader on the edge of her seat.  I commend Steve for telling such a personal story which helps us to reflect on what is important to us in our lives.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg (9781401322472)

  1. Thanks for your gracious review, and your description of my quest. I set out to understand my mother’s motivations in hiding her sister’s existence, to restore my aunt’s identity (she died in 1972, after 32 years as a psychiatric patient) and to understand the cultural forces that surrounded both women in the 1940s when Annie was involuntarily confined to the mental institution.

    The line that you quote from the book, “Without really trying, I have become a collector of other families’ secret” was referring to my experience in researching the book, and that when I would relate the secret, many people would ask, “Now can I tell you mine?”

    Annie’s Ghosts is truly a universal story.

  2. Mr. Luxenberg,

    Thank you for your correction. I have a personal stake in your story because I had an older sister who had a nervous breakdown in the early 70’s who was given shock treatment. An absolutely terrifying concept to treat mental breakdowns.

    Again, thank you for your story.

    Sharon