Bend­ing Toward the Sun: A Moth­er and Daugh­ter Memoir

By – December 2, 2011

Mem­oirs can be per­ilous for writer and read­er alike, and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie tack­les the genre’s pit­falls head-on by recre­at­ing both her moth­er’s life fol­lowed by the writer’s look at her own life. 

Rita (Ruchel) Gamss strug­gled through 1942 – 44 in a Pol­ish attic. Watch­ing help­less­ly as her moth­er and broth­er die, she sub­se­quent­ly makes her piti­ful, coura­geous way to the U.S., then rebuilds her life bar­ri­cad­ed by scars from her expe­ri­ence. In all ital­ics, Mom’s” adjust­ment to dis­tress and hap­pi­ness fills the first half of this book, with much dia­logue, pep­pered by Yid­dish and un-Angli­cized spelling.

In the sec­ond half of the mem­oir, Rita’s daugh­ter, the author (now in reg­u­lar type), unveils trau­mas and anx­i­eties of the Holo­caust that have shaped her. Leslie Gilbert-Lurie accom­plished”— as attor­ney, writer, and exec­u­tive in the com­mer­cial and not-for-prof­it world. But she nev­er over­comes her fears (attribut­ing to super­sti­tion bona-fide rit­u­als such as affix­ing a mezuzah to her door) or the emo­tion­al lega­cy that sur­round­ed her. To her dis­may, she sees these same inner stress­es emerg­ing in her young daughter. 

Read­ers of var­i­ous ageas will be attract­ed to Bend­ing Toward the Sun, includ­ing young adults. Acknowl­edge­ments, pho­tographs, prologue.

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Leslie Gilbert-Lurie

  1. If you could have cho­sen to read the per­spec­tive of anoth­er char­ac­ter in the book, whose would you have cho­sen and why?

  2. If you had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask your father, moth­er, or grand­par­ent any ques­tion about his or her past, what would you ask?

  3. What about Rita’s past influ­enced her own moth­er­ing style? What about Rita’s past con­tributed to Leslie’s and Mikaela’s deter­mi­na­tion and com­pet­i­tive spirits?

  4. Do you con­sid­er Stashik and Maria Gra­jol­s­ki to be heroes and if so, why? Who were the oth­er upstanders” in this story?

  5. Would you have invit­ed Rita’s fam­i­ly to hide in your home? How close to your inner cir­cle would they have had to be? What do you think you would have done in that situation?

  6. Do you sus­pect that the impact of the Holo­caust will dimin­ish as the years go by? Will future gen­er­a­tions be less affect­ed by their ancestor’s experiences?

  7. Why are chil­dren from the same fam­i­ly impact­ed dif­fer­ent­ly by trau­ma that their par­ents expe­ri­enced? What trau­mat­ic event in your parent’s life, or your own, impact­ed you or one of your children?

  8. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of telling the sto­ry from the per­spec­tives of three gen­er­a­tions? Do you believe that the cycle of trau­ma explored in Bend­ing Toward the Sun will inevitably con­tin­ue beyond the third generation?

  9. How do you believe Rita’s rela­tion­ships — with her hus­band, chil­dren, friends — would have been dif­fer­ent were it not for the Holo­caust? What key event that you expe­ri­enced altered one of your pri­ma­ry relationships?

  10. What lessons can we take from the Holo­caust to bet­ter the world today?

  11. What can we learn from Rita’s sto­ry and the lessons of the Holo­caust to inform the way we com­bat ris­ing anti-Semi­tism, and hate crimes in gen­er­al, in the world today? How should these same lessons inform our view on the rise of dic­ta­tors in the world today, and the way they should be confronted?

  12. If you had the same trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences as Rita, would be able to for­give the Nazis for the crimes they com­mit­ted? Would you feel dif­fer­ent­ly if you were the child of par­ents who had been the vic­tims of genocide?