A collection of powerful essays--filtered through the traditions of a Judaic perspective--that shed light into the life of a writer/journalist and her complicated relationship to family.
Departure Stories by Elisa Bernick--a writer/journalist from Minnesota--is an inviting, deeply poignant first memoir that offers an intergenerational smorgasbord of well-balanced, well-portioned personal stories, anecdotes, jokes, Jewish history and heritage—and insight.
Growing up in white, Christian, New Hope, Minn.--a suburb of St. Paul--during the tumultuous 1960 and 1970s, Bernick was basically well-assimilated, but always felt “different.” It’s these glimpses of alienation--along with episodes of "Midwestern antisemitism" and a striving to be like others--that set the foundation of this memory-driven narrative. Short chapters weave together fascinating personal stories peppered with remembrances of her ancestors, grandparents and parents. Spiritual aspects of Judaism are largely absent from the book. However, traditions of Jewishness--along with humor--pervade the entirety of the literary landscape. Her mother, Arlene, with blazing red hair, was a fiery--dynamic, yet difficult--presence. Stricken by mental illness, Arlene’s abusive volatility pervaded the folds of family—along with Bernick’s own experiences and rebellions. The emotions generated from such incidents--however sad and burdensome--ground Bernick. They ultimately shape her personality, her sensibilities, her fate and how she has thus, lived a life trying always to understand.
Identity--and Bernick’s search for it--is forefront. There are many telling stories, but the most pivotal stems from Bernick as a rebellious five-year-old: she ran away from home (rode a bus for hours) and upon her return, faced a harsh berating from her mother. This incident becomes a larger metaphor—Bernick continually trying to escape “home,” to keep an emotional distance from the deep-rooted tendrils of family, yet always being drawn back beyond the boundaries of its angering influence.
The story of her relationship to her family eventually comes full circle delivering a poignant conclusion. Older, wiser and more deeply enlightened Bernick (The Family Sabbatical Handbook) and her easy-going narrative style--her regaling readers with evolved consciousness and reinterpreting memories 50-years in the making--ultimately coalesce, granting Bernick enlightenment, while also making the world, via Departure Stories, a better place.
Indiana University Press, $22.00 paperback, 9780253064073, 246 pages
Publication Date: October 4, 2022