The Gam­bler’s Daugh­ter: A Per­son­al and Social History

Annette B. Dunlap
  • Review
By – November 9, 2012

In this brief mem­oir the author attempts to come to terms with the psy­cho­log­i­cal scar­ring she expe­ri­enced as a child dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s while liv­ing in Pitts­burgh and then sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton. Her father was a com­pul­sive gam­bler who used his daugh­ter to help hide his gam­bling loss­es from his wife, and her moth­er became a shrew because her social and occu­pa­tion­al ambi­tions were thwart­ed by her fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties and her husband’s gam­bling dis­ease. The most vivid mem­o­ries of Dunlap’s ear­ly years con­cern the con­stant bick­er­ing and fight­ing between her par­ents. It was not until she wit­nessed her mother’s grief at her father’s funer­al that she real­ized that they had, despite every­thing else, loved each oth­er, and this explained why they had not cho­sen the easy path of divorce. Both she and her moth­er, Dun­lap writes, were vic­tims of our times.”

As was true of many post-World War II Jew­ish fam­i­lies, Dunlap’s fam­i­ly was social­ly and cul­tur­al­ly Jew­ish, although it was some­what estranged from reli­gion, a not uncom­mon phe­nom­e­non. When her father died in 2004, a rab­bi had to be hired to per­form the funer­al since the fam­i­ly did not belong to a synagogue. 

In an attempt to put her family’s trou­bles into con­text, Dun­lap briefly chron­i­cles the sto­ry of East Euro­pean immi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca, the his­to­ry of Pitts­burgh and of its Jews, the sig­nif­i­cance that gam­bling has had in the Jew­ish past, and the psy­chol­o­gy of the com­pul­sive gam­bler. The most impor­tant part of her account focus­es on her frayed bonds with her father and moth­er, but the book’s brevi­ty and its digres­sion into oth­er top­ics pre­vent­ed her from ful­ly exam­in­ing them. That said, she has an inter­est­ing tale to tell.

Edward Shapiro is pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry emer­i­tus at Seton Hall Uni­ver­si­ty and the author of A Time for Heal­ing: Amer­i­can Jew­ry Since World War II (1992), We Are Many: Reflec­tions on Amer­i­can Jew­ish His­to­ry and Iden­ti­ty (2005), and Crown Heights: Blacks, Jews, and the 1991 Brook­lyn Riot (2006).

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