Part memoir and part mystery is how to best describe Wayne Hoffman’s new book, The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Murder. Utilizing his skills as both a journalist and a novelist, Hoffman recounts his quest to solve the murder of his great-grandmother, killed in her sleep in Winnipeg in 1913, and to share his findings with his mother before her mind is ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease. In the process, the author’s search for truth explores issues of Jewish identity, the immigrant experience, familial obligation, love, and loss.
The author’s search begins after he tells the improbable story of his grandmother’s death to a room full of journalists. Skeptical himself, but encouraged by his colleagues, Hoffman begins to unpack the story by requesting his great-grandmother’s death certificate. When it arrives in the mail and reads “’bullet wound through the brain — homicidal,’” the author is hooked, and the quest begins.
As The End of Her continues, Hoffman weaves chapters about his mother’s decline and his family history into a single narrative. He includes family trees, photos, and newspaper clippings, both in English and Yiddish, to add to the reader’s interest and understanding. During his investigation, he unravels additional family mysteries and paints a vivid picture of life in Winnipeg’s thriving Jewish community in the periods before and after World War One and the influenza outbreak of 1918. He also explores the relationship between the immigrant communities of Winnipeg and the distrust, antisemitism, and biases that persisted among the groups that settled in Canada.
While The End of Her does not offer the satisfaction of a neatly resolved murder mystery, it does offer the reader a fascinating and well-written story that keeps one’s interest to the very last page. While unproven, the author’s final analysis of the unlikely events of 1913 is compelling. Equally compelling are Hoffman’s motivations for writing this story: to share his family’s rich and unexplored history, to honor his mother and capture her heartbreaking decline, and to understand himself a little better. He is successful in each of these goals and readers are enriched by it.
Jonathan Fass is the Managing Director of Educational Technology and Strategy at The Jewish Education Project of New York.