"This is a book best read curled up in a cozy easy chair, preferably with a Mahler symphony playing in the background. [The memoir] starts as an explicit effort of a daghter trying to untangle her own emotions. Slowly the memories of crude disgust and rage make room to include understanding, comfort and delight. Simultaneously Carol's view of herself as the center of a family drama makes room for a wider circle of caring. The book ends up being an offering to shared resilience, a literary description of grief and healing, a love-filled requium."
Alejandra Suarez PsychCRITIQUES, May 6, 2009, Vol 54
"The best memoirs, like Rembrandt's paintings, have a certain amount of sadness and shadow in them, offsetting the light. There's a wistful reaching back for what was...which is often only outweighed by a yearning for what never was. We're acutely aware of both the reaching and the yearing in Carol Ascher's Afterimages: A Family Memoir. Ascher writes with painful, unsparing honesty about growing up in 1950s America with parents who were both escapees from Hitler's reign of terror. . . . What makes this an uncommon memoir is the raw-boned honesty of hers, the way she works through the shadows to confront her own demons as well as her father's demons."
T.J. Banks Connecticut Muse, Spring 2009
"I loved this book, a memoir with such a beautiful and perfect title. For those readers like me who had to run to the dictionary, an after image is a ghost image, an optical illusion that refers to the continuation of an image in one's vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased. And in this book, the author returns to Vienna, the city where her father was born and grew up, a city that has its own complicated past, in order to understand him and their complicated relationship. I'm not giving away much to say that by the time she makes this journey he's long since dead. It's a courageous journey because there are some ghosts lurking around in her psyche and, it turns out, most likely in his. Books about difficult father-daughter relationships are plentiful, but Carol Ascher's writing is so poignant and evocative, that I would recommend this one highly."
M. Fairchild Durham, N.C.
"A moving, compelling, and beautifully written family memoir, Afterimages sheds new and important light on refugee displacement, emigration, and the continuing legacy of the Holocaust for those who come after the event but continue to live in its unending shadow. Carol Ascher, American-born daughter of parents who fled Nazi anti-Semitism from Germany and Austria, takes us along on her fascinating quest to unravel the complex strands of a her family’s – especially her father’s – complicated background history in Europe before the war, and the powerful "afterimage" of that history as it affected her and her siblings throughout their lives in the United States. In so doing, and in enmeshing the familial with her own, personal, account of increasing understanding and compassion, she provides us with a poignant book, a second-generation chronicle that offers rich intellectual insights while also stirring our deepest feelings."
Vernon Professor of History Emeritus, Dartmouth College
Author, Hotel Bolivia
"Pursuing her story across two continents, from the Midwest of her own childhood to the Europe of her parents' growing up, Carol Ascher, the daughter of a Viennese psychoanalyst, explores with much psychological insight the unsettling legacy of Nazi persecution on her complicated immigrant family, and ultimately on herself, in this probing, well-written memoir."
Alix Kates Shulman Author, Memoirs of a Prom Queen
"Afterimages is a beautiful and totally serious book --- the life and death need to encounter and k n o w the beloved enemy father – who may never have known himself. It is also an angry, hurt, defiant and deeply tender book. Only a daughter who, besides being a gifted writer, has also trained herself in Austrian cultural history, politics, and psychoanalytic theory, could have so masterfully done the research and filled in from her imagination – an unheard of procedure in biography and history-- the circumstances and inner life of the one she is in pursuit of. Daring! And it works!
The whole book is like a psychoanalysis, with its many layers to be excavated, and its many shifts in time and place, which have nothing to do with chronological time and everything to do with memory and subjective time."
Professor Emeritus, of German and Comparative Literature, Sarah Lawrence College
Author, The Ground Under My Feet
Carol Ascher’s “Afterimages,” is subtitled, “A Family Memoir,” but it is really the story of Ascher and her father, who died unexpectedly when Ascher was 24.
The two had not spoken for many months, since she returned from a trip abroad, married to a man he didn’t like and broke. Her father chose not help her and to stop speaking to her, too.
Paul Bergmann was a complex and difficult man, by turn moody, charming, insightful, rigid, critical and demanding. His daughter both adored and feared him, living for the crumbs of praise he occasionally tossed. They were precious few.
When Ascher played her violin, he would chastise her if she missed a note. He told her she was inhibited and defensive. When she proudly showed him a school paper, he responded: “Sadly your intellectual success has come at the expense of your social development.”
“Long after his death,” writes Ascher, “my father remained the severe judge of my achievements.”
Bergmann, a Viennese Jew, emigrated to the United States in 1939 with his wife, Irma Ascher, also Jewish, but German. They eventually landed in Topeka, KS, where Paul, a lay psychoanalyst, took a job as a clinician at the Menninger Clinic. And there their first daughter, Carol, was born in 1941.
This complex, fascinating memoir is a tale of Ascher attempting to know and ultimately unknowable father. It is also the story of Ascher coming to terms with her personal family history as Jews who escaped – and some who didn’t – the atrocities of the Holocaust. And her conflict in being “Jewish” in a secular family that paid no attention to Jewish rituals or holidays.
In the course of the telling, Ascher travels from her childhood in Topeka and later Bethesda, MD, and then Vassar College, followed by visits to Austria and elsewhere to learn what she can about her father and his own family history.
It is a moving, ultimately courageous story, but often not very pretty. While her trips to Vienna to see her father’s family home to research his work and visit her grandfather’s grave lent no magic resolutions, Ascher notes that she did make peace with a country that had long held ugly, fearful impressions. “That was an enormous gift to myself.”
And in the end, while Ascher realizes she can’t perhaps ever truly understand her father, she comes to some kind of resolution with the not knowing. “It isn’t a perfect resolution,” she admits. “Maybe there can never be one when a relationship is so fraught.”
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