Two Very Different Vacation Reads
June 16, 2023
Book cover


I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays On Midlife And Motherhood By Jessi Klein

Just before Mother’s Day last month, I began listening to Jessi Klein’s memoir in essays, an eye-opening account of the challenges of mothering a young child. Not because it covers any new ground — the aftermath of childbirth, the sleepless nights, the breastfeeding, the battles with a picky eater, the troubles of toilet training — but because she bares it all, all the stuff that every mother has been through, just as it is.

The essays alternate between laugh-out-laugh funny situations, deeply insightful moments and subtly satirical observations, without being heavy handed. Klein is self-deprecating, funny and relentless. In the audiobook narrated by the author you feel the pain, the setbacks, the frustration as well as the wonder because it sounds like a close friend is having a no-holds barred private conversation with you.

Not all of the essays are overtly about motherhood, although her son features in many of them. She talks about her reluctance to feel at home in Los Angeles after moving from New York city, her feelings of inadequacy at her depressingly imperfect post-partum figure and the despair over losing her hair, a phenomenon that began long before she gave birth. For mothers, there is much to identify with and learn and for men, it can be a shocking revelation of the whole spectrum of motherhood and its impact on women’s lives – both outer and inner.  

Through Klein’s rambling, overthinking monologues we get to witness the worry and wonder of a caterpillar turn into a butterfly under her watch, the loneliness and terror of an inexperienced mother who is handed over the responsibility for her fragile newborn, and the anxious concern of a daughter for her elderly parents located all the way across the country during a global pandemic.

At times you get to see the sheer privilege that Klein enjoys by having the resources to hire a night nurse and a nanny, but she doesn’t shy away from admitting it and giving credit to all the women who helped her in her mothering journey. While it is much harder for women who do not have the necessary support when they most need it, what the book illuminates is the sheer hard work of motherhood that no one talks about. 

My opinion: If you’re currently caring for a young child or want to revisit a time when you mothered your infants, I highly recommend this bouquet of fast-paced, deeply personal essays.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

This is the book I carried with me on my Hawaiian vacation. Although not a big fan of World War II based stories, I had easy access to this book and packed it in my suitcase on a whim. I read parts of it on the flight to Honolulu, on Waikiki beaches and after returning to mainland USA. The story of Eva Traub, told through back and forth narration of a present day elderly woman and the young woman who lived through the World War, is well-paced, interesting and enjoyable.

Eva is Jewish woman who loves books and lives in Paris with her Polish immigrant parents who have moved to France to provide a life of freedom for their daughter. However, when Eva’s father is taken away to a concentration camp, Eva and her mother flee Paris and find their way to a tucked away village that offers them temporary sanctuary as they make plans to enter Switzerland. 

Despite her mother’s objections, Eva is convinced by a priest to use her skills at forging documents to prepare false documents for children who have been displaced or orphaned by the war so that they can be safely evacuated. As Eva gets engrossed in her new work where she meets Remy, a Catholic who is a fellow supporter of the cause and falls in love, things get complicated.

While she creates new identities for the children, Eva feels called to maintain a book that documents the given names of the children whose histories are being erased. Devising a complex system known only to a few, the Book of Lost Names, becomes a distant memory for Eva once the war ends and she makes a new life for herself in the US.

Decades later when a newspaper article mentions the Book of Lost Names in connection with a library in Germany, the door to Eva’s memory is opened and the story is revealed as she gets on a plane to Berlin to connect the dots and find closure.

Although the pacing of the story keeps the interest alive, the characters seem predictable and one-dimensional. All the side-stories as well as the plotline resolve too easily and are guessable. However, I enjoyed the book because I liked the protagonist, a courageous young woman who behaves with grace and integrity during a time of great distress.

My opinion: A quick-paced beach read that does not disappoint. 

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