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Q&A with Susan Faludi

For her latest book, the ‘haunting, urgent,’ ‘In the Darkroom,’ the reporter goes digging to find her father, a Holocaust survivor who became transgender—and unearths a meditation on American and American-Jewish identity in what turns out to be the Age of Trump

David Samuels
November 14, 2016
Sigrid Estrada, 2016
Sigrid Estrada, 2016
Sigrid Estrada, 2016
Sigrid Estrada, 2016

Susan Faludi is one of America’s very few indispensable reporters—a category that gets thinner every year. Her books, which include Backlash and Stiffed, combine an activist’s passion for justice and truth with the skepticism of a noir detective on a case that she knows will never turn out the way it was pitched. Her flat, almost-affectless prose is a vehicle for her profound empathy for and insight into her subjects, regardless of whether they fall into politically or narratively convenient boxes.

Yet as revelatory and socially important as some of her past work has been, none of her previous books can compare in complexity, emotional insight, and sheer bafflement to In the Darkroom—her haunting, urgent account of the life of her father, Steven Faludi, a teenage survivor of the 1944 Hungarian massacre of Budapest’s Jews. Showing resourcefulness and courage, Faludi saved both himself and his parents from death. After the war was over, he fled Hungary for Brazil and then attempted to make a new life as an American man.

Like most great books, In the Darkroom defies any easy categorization. It is at once a bravura piece of investigative reporting; a moving and frightening memoir of the childhood that made Susan Faludi a feminist icon; a biography of a con artist; an account of one family’s torment during the Holocaust, written by the American daughter of a survivor; a tricky meditation on the construction of gender roles; a book about a transgendered person who was also her father; and a profound exploration of the contradictions of the idea of “identity” that has seized the American imagination.

It was a pleasure to meet Susan Faludi for lunch at a nice restaurant in Portland, Maine, in a building that once housed the city’s newspaper, in the days before Donald Trump’s surprise election to the presidency.


Is this a book about a transgendered person, who happens to be your father? Or is this a book about feelings related to identity, which are not so easily reducible?

[Laughs] Yes and yes. This is a book that is not so much about transgender issues as it is about identity and its multiple and shifting forms—and the problematic question of what we mean by identity, to the extent that we even know what we mean when we use that word.

In one of the many tartly amusing asides in your book, you recount that the Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson, who more or less came up with the idea of identity, and who is most famously pictured in his office at Harvard with a large cross on his wall, was Jewish—and that “Erik Erikson” was a made-up name.

In his tome on identity, Erikson admits, on page one, that he really has no idea what it is. And every academic monograph and study I’ve read about identity always seems to come to that same conclusion. I wonder if it’s the modern, somewhat hollow, replacement for, for a sense of tethered belonging people felt, for good and for ill—and largely, in many ways for ill. A lot of it is a kind of nostalgia for a past when, supposedly, people felt connection to each other.

Whether it’s Hungarian folk culture or Scotsmen wearing kilts, most of the recognizable markers of our ethno-national selves were made up largely out of whole cloth, so to speak, in the 19th century. It was Herder’s idea that there was such a thing as “peoples” who are distinguished from each other by language, folkways, and folklore, an idea that is perhaps the main foundation of the order of nation-states that we inhabit today. Too bad it’s mostly hogwash.

All of that was discredited by the Holocaust.

So we needed a replacement for national identity, namely the self—which has in turn given rise to identity politics, which is more about the group than the self.

The replacement seems to be an awful lot like what we thought we were getting away from, to the extent that it’s about anything at all. It’s so contradictory. And the question of transgender identities crystalizes that impossible paradox of, “OK, I’m creating for myself a new identity. Or am I? Am I transcending gender, or am I just shifting from one set of gender stereotypes to another, and why exactly am I doing that?”

Your father’s idea was that he had become, or aspired to become, his imagined version of a traditional housewife—

—a Hungarian housefrau, yes. But interestingly, over time, my father let a lot of that caricatured persona drop away. And toward the end of her life, she kind of settled into herself. I think a lot of that had to do with her getting older, and not really walking around in stiletto heels at 85. I’d like to think that maybe some of it came not from our conversations, but from us developing something of a relationship, and my father getting to know other women, most of whom were actually wearing tennis sneakers and hoodies.

There’s a whole bunch of sentences where you write “my father,” and then you follow with “her.” How did it feel writing those sentences?

You can imagine how it felt to be the copy editor. Our relationship did not become a relationship between a daughter and a mother. It remained a relationship between a daughter and a father. On top of that my father, when annoyed, would say, “after all, I’m still your father.”


And then as far as the “she” part goes, that’s, you know, how my father wanted to be identified, and I wanted to honor that. And then, over time, it didn’t feel right to say “he,” either.

In a Hungarian context, it’s particularly interesting and weird, because Hungarian—

—has no gender pronouns, yes. I keep wanting to get to the bottom of that. Because Hungary in every other way is utterly conventional, as far as gender goes.

If it means nothing else, it’s proof that gender roles are not simply forced upon us by language.

Exactly, yes.

You’re a lot of things, starting with being a terrific reporter and a very lucid thinker and writer. But if you looked at the tag on the bookstore shelf, it would probably say “feminist.” Not only that, but you are a writer whose origin story begins with an act of violence committed by your father, who followed up his attack on your mother’s boyfriend with a series of intrusions into the apartment in the East Village where you and your mother fled, all of which must have been acutely terrifying.

And then the cultural response to it, from the cops who just gave him a slap on the wrist, to the divorce court, and the local newspapers, which portrayed my father as defending his family. For me, as a feminist, it suggested that it wasn’t just one person—there’s a whole system out there that’s stacked against women.

And your father knew all that, or some part of that, right?

Yeah. I sent him my books over the years. When I came to Hungary, I found that my father had a folder with articles about my books and interviews with me.

It occurred to me that among the many motivations that animated this new identity that your father had taken on, there might have been the desire to make himself over into a person who could communicate with you better—namely, a woman.

The, the thought crossed my mind more than once, yes. Although, as I argue that identity is irreducible, there is no one smoking gun in this story.

You’re quite explicit about the other things that might have influenced this specific choice, though.

Yeah. I didn’t want to assume. My father wanted to show her new self to everybody. She didn’t just show me that video of the operation. I mean, she sent it to her endocrinologist.


There were many times when I thought, when my father was making statements like, “You only write about the disadvantages of being a woman,” that he was needling me and actually trying, in a complicated way, by provoking me, to get closer, and to actually have a conversation about this. But it’s always so hard to know, because my father’s such a trickster.

And everything my father said was doubled. I would ask my father, “When did you first start feeling this?” And my father would say, “Well, as a child. But, of course, you have to say that to get the operation.” And I said, “Well, is it true?” He answered, “Well, it’s also true.”

“It’s also true.” That’s exactly right.

So I was aware at every point that my father’s greatest point of pride, perhaps even my father’s core identity, is as somebody who’s getting away with things, who’s basically a con artist. My father’s greatest goal was to convince me of her ability to lie.

You are obviously aware that your writing is pretty heavily inflected by Freudian ideas, in a way that is now probably illegible to everybody under the age of 40, right?


There’s this cold mother, who’s out having affairs with other men in Budapest. Meanwhile, the child is raised by a succession of governesses, whom he abuses. That part read like a case study by Freud or Sándor Ferenczi.


The father who he creates in his mind is a warm person who loves him. But in fact—

He is cold. I mean, what I got from my relatives was that my grandfather was probably the real criminal in this family drama. So, yes, one could do the Freudian analysis, but in the end, I’m not sure that that’s fair, either.

My father was just born this odd duck. And all the family dynamics played a role and historical forces played a role. And the Holocaust played a role. And having to redefine himself on several continents played a role. And the collapse of his marriage played a role. But when I hear the stories of how my father was very early on, it’s clear that there was also a sort of organic component.

I get the sense of a layered explanation that in the end precisely explains nothing.

I feel like with this story, every time I dig down through the 20 layers, I end up at a door where there’s nothing but empty sky behind it.

That is precisely my experience of writing about con artists. You want to peel the orange, but, in fact, it’s not an orange.


So, what does this the story of the troubled, shape-shifting person who was your father also tell us something larger about the ways that we construct identity now?

I don’t mean to generalize from my father’s story about the transgender experience or the Holocaust experience. But I do feel that because my father’s drama was that of a struggle over identity on every front, from her gender to her politics to her nationality to her religion, that it is a sort of window into the greater battlefield of our time, which is identity, whether it’s Trumpism, or Brexit, or ISIS. I mean, these are all manifestations of seizing upon some kind of out-of-the box, pasted-on identity.

There is the implication that there’s something in these identities that we Americans are now so eagerly assuming that makes them an uneasy fit. They deny the often-baffling complexity of our individual experience as humans.

Right. I mean, on the plus side, identity can, if it is actually kind of a voyage toward self-inspection and self-knowledge, arguably be an emancipatory, liberating expansion of the self. I like to think that that’s what feminism was about.

Or civil rights, maybe.

It started out as the classic romantic idea, with the addition that it’s not only Wilhelm Meister who can set out on the wonderful journey of self-discovery, it’s also Mildred Meister and gay Meister and Afro-American Meister and Abraham Meister. They’re all equally valid protagonists of the romantic plot. But there’s a flip from saying, “I have the same right to my own search for discovery and meaning,” to the handing out of scripts that dictate where I must wind up—“as a woman,I therefore feel X.”


And if the speaker doesn’t produce the correct result, the outcome is immediately suspect: Maybe so-and-so hasn’t correctly internalized their given identity, or is a bad Jew, or is betraying their gender.

I mean, this is a longstanding problem among feminists. If you don’t identify with other women, then how do you organize to free women from the oppression that you have legitimately analyzed and decry?

One of the reasons that I admire your work so much is I think it provides an emotional model for how to bridge that gap. Your first big book, Backlash, was a searing and incredibly influential look at ways in which women were being—

—fed the script.—

—by someone else right? The next book that you wrote—

—was attacked by other women.

But Stiffed was a great book, in part because it quite purposefully provided a focal point for both women and men to organize their thoughts and feelings about the disintegration of traditional American masculine roles. And it was written with a huge amount of empathy.

I was scolded by many who weren’t really interested in that particular point.

Read together, those two books show how the same set of analytical and reportorial tools can be used by the same person, writing from the same vantage point, to see the broad variety of experience in a way that wasn’t about handing anybody a script or, or denying the autonomy of anyone’s experience. Yeah, you took some shit for that book, but imagine if you had published Stiffed today.

[Laughs.] I wish I had published it today. Yeah, I think the criticism that “you’re just writing about a bunch of losers who just need to get with the dot-com revolution” has turned out to have less traction than it might have seemed back then.

Talk about the influence of the internet on your father and his shaping of a feminine self.

And the actual surgery itself. I mean, my father located the surgeon through the internet, and he communicated with the surgeon only by the internet. Tricked the surgeon, by writing a phony letter.

I hate these terms, but my father was likely “on the spectrum,” and had a lot of trouble dealing with social situations, and so the internet was kind of a safe place. When I first came over, and was desperately trying to get us out of the house, and saying, “Let’s go here let’s go there,” she would be like, “Well, you can just look at my old family house on the internet.” I mean, why go anywhere?

The other thing that disturbs me about watching my father graft on an identity based on what she found on the internet is that so much of what is on the internet is turbo-consumerist. They retail very external ideas of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be anyone, of what it means to be sexual. She’d download pornography and then just put her name into the story, or montage her face on somebody’s body.

But did that bother you in the way that any child’s contact with her parents’ sexuality is just inherently gross?

Well, there was that. But it also just seemed so empty. My father was very creative in other ways. He could imagine and build things. And had such a rich history to draw from. And that would all be plastered over with the oldest chestnuts of frills and ribbons and garter belts. On the other hand, a lot of sexuality is really kind of tiresome and repetitive.

Other people’s sexuality is, yes. And yes, the internet is a supermarket filled with shoddy, plastic memes and constructs.

It’s like the franchising of anything. After a while, you can’t imagine a restaurant that doesn’t look like a McDonald’s. You go to the airport, and it’s like every other airport. And the internet seems to be a monstrous version of that. And it does eventually push out alternative imaginings, in the guise of being inclusive.

It’s part of the effect of late-term capitalism that we are all trying to make ourselves into consumable products. So identity doesn’t become what I am, it becomes what you think I am. It’s performative.

It disturbed me when my father would say over and over again, when I’d ask him the big “why” question, why do this? “Well, I fit the role now. I fit the role more as a woman than a man.” To which I would ask, you know, “Why fit any role?”

So why did my father want to make herself into this product that other people would like, to break out of her cage? But at the same time, she had to create this other cage in order to feel cared for. It was just an impossible trap.

The emotions that I got from your portrayal of your father were a tremendous loneliness and real fear, of the kind that leads quickly to anger.

Oh, yes, immense loneliness. And an explosive comes-from-nowhere kind of anger, yeah.

But then there’s that cry at the end of the book, when you take him to see an exhibit on the fate of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, which I’m going to read into my recorder: “ ‘Let the people in Hungary look at them,’ my father burst out. ‘They turned their backs. They said, Wow, it’s none of our business. They never looked at who was taken. These people were just like them. They spoke the same language. They were your neighbors, they were your friends. You let them die. These were the ones you allowed to die. Let them look so they can go home and not sleep in peace.’ ”

That is an Old Testament prophet or a Jewish Holocaust survivor talking.

It was astonishing to me. It was like this gushed up from some deep well inside my father. And then, quickly, no sooner had we left the museum than my father was busy tamping it down with jokes.

He doesn’t sound like a con artist or a sociopath in those places. There’s the suggestion, at least in the placement of that material, that that is if not his true identity, at least a shard of something that is irreducibly him, or her.


Do you feel that’s true?

Well, that was the fall of 2014. And my father died in May of 2015. If you look at the trajectory of our reunion from 2004 to 2015, in the beginning, my father was very preoccupied with kind of marketing the new identity and talking about gender, about what it meant to be feminine, and makeup, and how to do your hair. Which is at least was a kind of point of connection, to the degree that I know anything about hair.


It’s limited, but. And as time went on, there was always this war between us. I wanted to know what came before to excavate the history and my father wanted to close the door on it and just say, “No, I’m a new person.”

“Let’s go to the hairdresser together.”

And also that I should grant her absolution for what he did in the past, and that we can just hit the restart button.

But then toward the end of my father’s life and, perhaps, I would say, tentatively, due to my pushing on the historical Jewish front and dredging up all these relatives who knew my father and bringing them back into my father’s life, and bringing the photos of family from the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s to him that he began to shift his—shift focus from gender identity to beginning to come to grips with the Jewish identity.

There’s this story that he told you when you were a girl about how he saved his parents. And to your surprise at the end of the book, the story turns out to be true and, if anything, more heroic in reality.


So much of your own adult self had been formed in part as a reaction to your experience of your father as a monster. And then to have that flipped and say, yes, all of that was true, but also, this person acted heroically under different circumstances and saved people’s lives—that must have been a relief, but also strange and difficult.

That’s so true. [Laughs.] And there’s an odd echo of the rescue of his parents in the break-in to our house in order to rescue, or pretending to rescue, me and my mother, after the locks had been changed thanks to several restraining orders. And, you know, as my father described it to me later, it was doing another impersonation as the wronged husband, so that—I don’t know, so that my mother would feel sorry for him.

In both these cases, I get the sense that my father was playing a role and putting on this mask, and so maybe she could never own that courage or that shame. So it’s always like, “That was me just performing as somebody else.”

I believe that nearly every person who’s drawn into some kind of scam or con knows at some level what’s happening pretty quick, and that’s the exact moment when powerful forces of denial are engaged.

So, according to my theory, you’re a world-class reporter and investigator and incredibly incisive and tenacious. So did your father really have a chance to not reveal himself to you? At some level, he wanted that, right?

I think my father wanted that. Often, later, when I was in Hungary, he would brag to other people, “Oh, my daughter, you know she’s a relentless reporter.”

On my part, I think there was a desire at the beginning to quote-unquote “expose” this tormenter in my life. Then, over the course of those 12 years, I became less interested in exposure and more interested in trying to come not just to understanding but to achieving some kind of closeness with my father.

Ultimately, the joke was on me, because my father wanted to be exposed.


There was a psychoanalyst in Budapest who wanted to interview my father for some paper she was doing on being trans and being Jewish. And my father wanted me to come along on the interview. And the woman started asking my father questions and in the middle of it my father got really annoyed and said, “Well, you know, my daughter has been interviewing me for 12 years.” And then, of course, my father never read the book.

Do you think that was because it would have been too much for him to see it all in one place? Or do you think it was because the emotional satisfaction he was looking for, he already had—namely, his new relationship with you?

Well, that’s interesting. Well, I think it’s both, yeah.

I think also that my father is such a consummate PhotoShopper that he can’t imagine that if I handed it to her she wouldn’t have started, you know, “cut this, cut that.”

In the end, she was sick of being in hiding.

People ask me sometimes, “Why do you think that person talked to you?”

I’ve always wondered that.

Right, and the answer I’ve come up with over the years that feels most true is that human beings have an innate need—

—to reveal themselves.

Because we’re social animals. We can see ourselves fully only in dialogue with others. And people, unless they’re sociopaths, need to be seen and known by others. For most people, the range of potential mirrors may be very large. But for others, it may be vanishingly small.

My father is very isolated, and he chose to be isolated. And he was not going to come out of his shell without somebody really picking at him. So here comes her daughter—


—who is Little Miss Journalist.

Right. It’s like an old Western or grifter movie. The two con artists go at each other. But then a true emotional bond develops between them. That’s pure Hollywood.


There’s a complex and very interesting set of suggestions at one point in the book where you discuss how Judaism—especially Jewish masculinity—is feminized in European Christian culture. In the Middle Ages, you have this idea that Jewish men menstruate.

Right, and that somehow circumcision has led to the enfeeblement of Jewish male sexuality, and at the same time, Jewish men are portrayed as being hypersexual.

So was there an element that you felt in your father’s choice of self-castration, because castration is safety?

Oh, wow.

I mean, the one indelible tell that someone was Jewish in 1944 Budapest was a circumcised penis. Women were less stigmatized and less vulnerable. Their survival rate was higher.

That’s fascinating. But again, this is another one of those one-stop solutions that explain nothing. Although I remember the day we were sitting in the Jewish summer festival in Budapest, and my father is looking at, you know, sort of glaring at the elderly Jewish men who are sitting in the VIP row, because he thinks they’re glaring at he, and so, he said, “Oh. I know what they’re thinking: ‘There goes an overdressed shiksa.’ ” “So what are we changing here?” I wondered. “Is it your sex or is it your religion?”

I’ve spent a lot more time than I expected to over the last five years thinking about Jews and listening to their stories. And one of the conclusions that I’ve come to is that this entire community experienced the Holocaust as an enormous trauma that it is still only beginning to process. The people it shaped were their kids, who had very little comprehension of where their parents’ weird energies came from.

I feel that way sometimes, even struggling with a hard question, like why my father ever went back to Hungary, a country that’s pretty clearly established its hatred for Jews and destroyed vast numbers of our extended family. I don’t know whether my father went back to finally assimilate or to finally thumb his nose at all that. And say, you know, “You couldn’t accept me as a Jew? Well, try this on for size.”

Which raises another question of whether the sex-reassignment surgery was her finally settling into who she really was. Or was it just another iteration of not—not being caught, not getting pinned down. Or was being perceived as being a woman finally a way to be left alone, and being passive and being taken care of.

I think anyone who grew up close to Holocaust survivors, as I did, knows that the experience of being brutalized, of having to do desperate and even terrible things to survive, of seeing your family members and loved ones killed in brutal ways, rarely had a softening effect on human beings. It is a trauma that has more extreme effects on some than on others. I have a friend who is a painter who survived Auschwitz as a teenager. His entire family was murdered. He’s an exceptionally kind, gentle person, but I think that there’s something obscene about suggesting that his suffering made him that way. I think he is a gentle, humanistic, and kind person despite what happened to him, not because of it.

I think that what age when you went through the Holocaust is significant. You know, whether you were a fully formed person or not. In my father’s case, it’s his whole adolescence.

His ability to enact these different roles without being them, whether it was a result of his trauma or innate, literally saved his life and the lives of his parents.


So how can you tell that person—

—“Give that up.” I mean, that was my father’s greatest moment.

Right. Right. Right. A moment of unqualified heroism, courage, bravery, in which he literally saved his life and the lives of his family. What else was that person supposed to do with his life?

Other than to re-enact it.

Think of all the people who saw their parents and sisters and brothers murdered and were unable to do anything. And they lived. And he lived.

Yeah, only to turn around and never speak to them again.

Seems like they had a prior history also. [Laughs.] But he was the one who put on that uniform and took a gun with no bullets and risked his life to rescue his parents, who in some ways had been fundamentally unkind to him and even banished him.

Although I think there was a certain pleasure in marching in that door and screaming out, “Send those dirty Friedmans out here!” And then screaming at them and then marching them down the steps, then flying off and never seeing them again.

Perhaps that was the recompense he allowed himself for the terror he experienced, and the risks he took. I mean, I’m sure you read all the accounts of what Budapest was like in 1944, beating people to death with iron bars in the street and nobody caring, like the slaughtering of tens of thousands of stray dogs, and dumping their bodies into the river.

Yeah, and those protective houses were systematically emptied out by Arrow Cross fellows who then marched them to the Danube and shot them. That would have been my grandparents’ fate, most likely.

Now I want to push you on the question that you didn’t answer. One of the things that I think is resonant about this story is you have this perfectly art-directed American family, with the patriarchal father with the outdoor activities, the puppet theater in the living room, and everybody in their proper gender role. And then you have this inexplicable and terrifying eruption of violence. And then the whole thing collapses, and then you and your mom go off and live in the East Village. Except, what caused any of that is never clear. Right? Because your father wasn’t, in fact, a typical ’50s American dad.


That was an illusion he created. In fact, he was a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Hungary.


Your childhood was a stage set put together by an expert photo retoucher.

Right. [Laughs.]

So there was something else going on.


Besides, “Oh, this is America, and so the bad man committed violence because his patriarchal authority was threatened.”


Something else was true, also. And this is the book in which you explicate it. I think that it has a resonance to it that makes it a Jewish story of now. I think a lot of people had parents who were those people, or the children of those people, who went on enacting American-ness and trying to art-direct it while telling their children that they were safe and that they were in the best place ever, and having Christmas trees or being good liberals. Whatever it was that they were doing was in part a kind of camouflage.


There was a lot of fear behind this kind of masquerade that they couldn’t get on top of, or even acknowledge.

Right, and it’s very important that we paper it over. Yeah. I think my father’s psychic life lived in the basement. Literally. My father spent a lot of time in the cellar.

I think there was always this underworld shadow-play going on that was much more real for my father. And to some extent, I was the child who sensed that. I remember as a kid knowing only these few little bits—like my father lived on pieces of frozen horse meat he had hacked off a carcass in the street. And knowing that my father’s life was in danger at every moment he was walking down a regular street. That was something I’d thought about a lot as a child. I’d be walking to school and overwhelmed with this image of what if the Arrow Cross troops came out—


—from behind the trees. My imagination was populated by this shadowy, flickering world of my father’s, about which I knew very little. And it may be that eruption of violence in my childhood was also an eruption from his own past—that some of these dramas from his own past were eerily replicated in my childhood, and became shaping moments of my own life.

Which is why it sort of struck me that, you know, sort of ultimately, the culminating violent moment with my father was breaking into a house and storming the stairs was exactly what my father did in the winter of 1944 to save his parents.


Even though we weren’t living in a war. But in my father’s mind, it was almost as if that violent moment was like a wormhole back to 1944. And we all became sort of shapes in this drama that he hadn’t let go of.

If I center it in the character of you, this feels to me like an American Jewish story of this moment. Very few of the stories that are supposed to occupy that place feel real to me that way. They’re either updated versions of stories that we already know to be “Jewish stories,” or else they’re pure nostalgia.

It’s a story told by an American Jew who knows almost nothing about Jewishness but feels very strongly that I’m Jewish.

That’s what American Jewishness is, right?


Another part of the story is that it turns out that you had quite a large family in Israel.

Yes, and there were so many incredible stories like that, but they can live them openly, you know? As opposed to, you know, the American story where Friedman becomes Faludi, because we were in an Italian-Catholic neighborhood.

All of my relatives are haunted by what happened to them in Hungary. They’re never going to get out from under those years any more than those who went to America and tried to paper it over. But it just seems so much more honest. My Israeli relatives and my European and Australian relatives span the gamut from being very right-wing Jews to very left, and they all fight about it. But they were all so warm and welcoming.

When I first came over there, they all got together and had this dinner in my honor and said, “Now you’ve found your wider family. And you’ll always have a home here.”

Right. And one part of you is like, “No, I don’t have any family,” and one part is like, “This is very nice.”

And the other part of me that’s going, “Damn, why didn’t I know about this earlier?” Not just, “Oh, why did my father cut me off?” but why didn’t I pursue it earlier? I guess I could have.

One of my deep regrets is that I never met my grandmother. I could have gone over when I was in college and I was in my early 20s, but I didn’t. And I really only have myself to blame for that. Am I holding on to the kind of stock script about my father’s not having anything to do with that side of the family? Which is: a) not fair to them and, b) not fair to me. Because I just denied myself a larger family.


Plus, there are just so many questions I could have asked my grandmother.

Says the reporter.

David Samuels is the editor of County Highway, a new American magazine in the form of a 19th-century newspaper. He is Tablet’s literary editor.

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