Between Gods: A Memoir

Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Publishers  2015

 

Alison Pick’s powerful memoir takes readers on a highly relatable and enjoyable journey. Pick is a poet and a novelist, the author of the bestseller Far to Go. Her research for this novel about the Holocaust inspired Alison to convert to Judaism, which she writes about in Between Gods, in which she weaves together faith, family, and Jewish history.

This book is different from other stories about rediscovering faith, since Pick was half-Jewish. In her attempt to return to her Jewish roots, she felt abandoned and at odds with Toronto’s Conservative rabbis, who held fast to Jewish law. Since her mother was not Jewish, technically Pick was not, either, so she had to go through the conversion process in order to be recognized as a Jew by her community.

Readers are taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions, at times crying and laughing with Pick as she tells her sad, tragic, and ultimately uplifting journey. What makes this book relevant to today’s issues is Pick’s descriptions of the Jews of the Holocaust era who struggled while retreating, denying, and ignoring the dangers. She learned that some of her relatives escaped from the Czech Republic during World War II, while others died in concentration camps. She also discovered that her own father had not known of this history until he was in his twenties. “When I learned my Dad was Jewish, I assumed I could be, too, if I wanted[…] but I might not be able to convert, given that my fiancé wasn’t Jewish, I experienced it as a kind of rejection,” Pick writes. “Because the Holocaust is my access point it’s taking a while for me to learn the joy. And in some ways I don’t feel very welcome.”

The book is most powerful when both Pick and her father discover their families past and begin to identify with their Jewish faith. The history of her family, from their time in Czechoslovakia, to Auschwitz, then to Canada is heart wrenching. She learned how her father’s side of the family attempted to ignore and dismiss their Jewish background while they posed as Christians when they attended an Anglican Church and ate ham on Christmas.

The main portion of the book relates how Pick connected with her Jewish identity through her relationships with her fiancé, her dad, and her newfound Jewish friends. She travels with her fiancé, Degan, through Europe visiting family sites, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust memorial in Prague. The book also explores her struggles to finish a novel based during the Holocaust, to finally marry Degan after seven years together, losing a baby to a miscarriage, and going through another turbulent pregnancy.

Between Gods is a powerful book in which the author reclaims the heritage her grandparents had abandoned. Readers will not want to put the book down: this memoir is a beautifully woven story of family, partnership, religion, love, and reconciliation as its author connects her present life to the past.

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