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Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The Gravedigger's Daughter

My first read of an author who is prolific I understand. The story is around Rebecca Schwart the youngest in a very dysfunctional immigrant family. Father former Maths teacher and now a gravedigger, paranoid with suspicion of everything and everyone, everyone is out to get you. Fresh from persecutions in Munich suffering indignities of every kind, he comes to America with huge expectations. His wife on the other hand is made to feel even more terrified than her husband and is paralysed with fear over all outsiders and will venture out of her house only in very rare circumstances. Add to the mix two sons overshadowed and brutalised by a father who does not understand them at all. One son runs away from home after a murder and the second son also disappears from home.

Rebecca is left at home to fend for herself until the day she comes back home to find her mother murdered and her father dead by his own hand. Rebecca is taken in by a teacher who is very fond of her but who basically wants to make her a good Christian. Rebecca does not rebel openly against the teacher whom she is fond of, because Rebecca does realize that she would have ended in the State's foster care system if not for the care of this teacher.

Fast forward Rebecca's life, she is now Hazel Jones herself a victim of violence and she makes a new life for herself and her husband and baby son. Finally she seeks to escape the violence of her husband and carves a newer life for herself. She thinks she can escape her past but none of us really do. I doubt that anyone can compartmentalize their life to this extent that they ever completely forget what happened.

How the past is always present and haunts not just Rebecca but also her parents who can never escape the mental anguish of their history. Some immigrants make good- most do and we read such brilliant stories of them. This is not one of the so called happy endings. 

The suffering in the Schwart family is very real. The father's harsh treatment of his two sons - Herschel who despite living in America from the age of seven never really gets to grips with English, his own ne'er do well attitude and finally criminal life, then Gus overshadowed by both brother and father and the mother - saddest character of all.

The book was heavy with sorrow from beginning to end - not a book I will recommend. We have enough sadness in the world without something like this weighing you down. 


  1. I've only read one of her other novels but it was similar in tone. I don't need happy books all the time but there are times when I just don't want to read a book like this. I appreciate your review.

  2. I read a memoir of hers and it was very sad as well. I guess that's just the way she writes.

  3. I know there are people who adore Oates' novels but I have never been able to finish one -- they're too... I don't know ... just not me. This one is another I'm going to pass!

  4. It must have been none the less impressive Mystica, from what I noticed in your review but like you, I enjoy a book for its entertainment and this one does not fit the bill!
    All the best,

  5. Hi Mystica,

    Sorry to hear that this book wasn't to your liking and I commend your honest and candid review.

    I have to say that this is a new author to me and I love the sound of this book, so have added it to my reading list.

    Life must have been very hard for a Nazi German family trying to make a new life for themselves in another country, just as their former leader is about to commit so many atrocities. It isn't surprising that the tone of the book is a little subdued and down-beat and I am sure that Rebecca's journey must have been a traumatic and emotional one.

    I may change my opinion once I have actually started the book, but I am stil going to give it a go.


  6. Yes...I remember how heavy and sad it was

  7. I like Oates writing but I'm not sure about all the sadness. I usually do not like to read too many sad books!

  8. I read this book years ago and remember being really disappointed by it. I wasn't put off by the sadness; I just thought the book dragged and was boring at parts. Most of the Oates' books I've read are very sad.

  9. Sorry to hear you didn't like this one. I've never read any of Oates' books but I am under the impression that they are all quite heavy subject matter.