When Samuel G. Freedman was nearing fifty, the same age at which his mother died of breast cancer, he realized that he did not know who she was. Of course, he knew that Eleanor had been his mother, a mother he kept at an emotional distance both in life and after death. He had never thought about the entire life she lived before him, a life of her own dreams and disappointments. And now, that ignorance haunted him. So Freedman set out to discover the past, and Who She Was is the story of what he found. It is the story of a young woman's ambitions and yearnings, of the struggles of her impoverished immigrant parents, and of the ravages of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. It is also the story of a middle-aged son wracked with regret over the disregard he had shown as a teenage boy for a terminally ill mother, and as an adult incapable for decades of visiting her grave. It is the story of how he healed that wound by asking all the questions he had not asked when his mother was alive. Whom did she love? Who broke her heart? What lifted her spirits? What crushed her hopes? What did she long to become? And did she get to become that woman in her brief time on earth? Who She Was brings a compassionate yet unflinching eye to the American Jewish experience. It recaptures the working-class borough of the Bronx with its tenements and pushcarts, its union halls and storefront synagogues and rooftop-tar beaches. It remembers a time when husbands searched hundreds of miles for steady work and wives sent packages and prayers to their European relatives in the desperate hope they might survive the Nazis. In such a world, Eleanor Hatkin came of age, striving for education, for love, for a way out. Researched as a history, written like a novel, Who She Was stands in the tradition of such classics as Call It Sleep and The Assistant. In bringing to life his mother, Samuel G. Freedman has given all readers a memorable heroine.
Samuel G. Freedman is a columnist for The New York Times and a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of six acclaimed books, four of which have been New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Freedman also has written frequently for USA TODAY, New York magazine, Rolling Stone, The Jerusalem Post, Tablet, The Forward, and Salon.com. He lives in Manhattan with his fiance and his children.
"Who She Was is a precise, meticulous re-creation of a woman's experience that attempts -- as does all great literature -- to take a stand against time and loss and insignificance." -- Alice McDermott, Author Of Child Of My Heart and Charming Billy
"Freedman has succeeded brilliantly in finding out who his mother was and how she lived; the result is a book that is deeply satisfying to read, as close to time traveling as most of us will ever experience." -- Diane Ravitch, The New York Sun
"Nothing less than a triumph of the biographer's art, a work that takes a woman lost to time and restores her to the world." -- Davod L. Ulin, Chicago Tribune
"A testament to how every life is a living and memorable embodiment of the past and history. One feels the author's affection and wonderment for his subject on every page." -- Oscar Hijuelos, Author Of The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love
"Who She Was is a subtle analysis, with all the pathos and depth of a portrait by Rembrandt.... Freedman's odyssey into his mother's past explains who she was and paints an affecting portrait of the woman and her times." -- Tony Lewis, The Providence Journal