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MIXED MESSAGES (book)Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile
By Eleanor Foa
* Book signing December 9th (6pm) - Rizzoli Book Store in New York (between 25th and 26th Street and Broadway)
Growing up in New York City, Eleanor was confused and frustrated by the mixed messages she received from her parents: her mother, a refugee from Nazi Germany, turned her back on everything from her homeland; to her, it was okay to be Jewish as long as you didn’t look, sound or act Jewish; her parents believed “family is everything” but distanced Eleanor and her sister from the extended family; her father insisted money wasn’t important but eventually wound up with a seven-figure portfolio; her parents’ marriage, admired by many, seemed so unhappy inside their home; and her father – an economist and intellectual, though proud of his family history – shared so little of it.
Was it a generational clash or a cultural one? Did Europeans view marriage, money and family differently from Americans? Or was it because the central drama of their adult lives – World War II, the Holocaust, emigration and exile – bound her parents together but set their daughters apart? These were questions Eleanor pondered. After her parents died, Eleanor felt compelled to learn more about her past and sort out these mixed messages. It was time to do her own investigating and, in 2006 she asked her sister to join her on a journey to Italy in search of their family history.
In MIXED MESSAGES Eleanor retraces the footsteps of her ancestors through northern Italy (Soragna, Cortemaggiore, Parma) and discovers the remarkable story of I Fratelli Foa, the publishing house that flourished in the mid-1500s in Sabbioneta, a walled city with a unique history, whose citizens continue to honor her ancestors. She reconnects with living relatives in Turin, Naples, and Rome and through visits to synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and even the grave of her father’s sister, Paola, pays homage to her Italian relatives who died. What initially begins as a trip to understand who her parents were and how their legacy shaped who she is, eventually becomes a way to reconstruct her parents’ journey and, by doing so, empathizing with their struggles and contradictions. Eleanor uses her photographer’s eye and dry sense of humor to bring her journey to life. Readers will feel like they’re traveling along with the Foa sisters, sharing delicious meals and family secrets.