There are dozens of books published annually portraying someone's difficult journey from trauma to self-awareness. Rarely, however, can such a book be as universally applied as Gated Grief. Early on, the reader becomes aware that the silent WWII veterans suffered from a form of post traumatic stress disorder. Was burying their feelings about what they had experienced healthier for them and their families than the way vets from more recent wars have reacted? Who knows? One does realize by the end of the book, though, that not having any front line experience is healthier.
Levinson begins interviewing surviving WWII concentration camp liberators after she discovers startling photos which her physician father took when his unit came upon a Nazi slave labor camp. Graphic photos, reminders, appear throughout the book. He suffered a psychological breakdown after spending two weeks in the camp and returned to the States a different person. Very few veterans were even willing to speak of their experience and each of those who were interviewed broke down and cried. "I suddenly doubted my project," Levinson writes. "Speaking with the veterans would likely trigger intense emotion in them, pain they had managed to avoid for years..."
Gated Grief, however, is not only a document of the trauma of veterans, it is about Levinson's struggle to understand why her father, a physician beloved in their community, was so cold and rigid with her and her brothers. There was an utter emotional void. As she uncovers the pain of other liberators, she begins to understand her own father, her own melancholy and begins to be able to forgive him. Her pain, intensified by an absent mother and a cruel housekeeper, spills out on the pages. Over and over, Levinson writes of the cocoon of encouragement and support in which her husband envelopes her.
It takes fine writing and deep thought to navigate through this topic and Levinson succeeds. Gated Grief is difficult to read but well worth the effort. War leaves an indelible impression upon not only those immediately involved, but upon the next generation as well. It impacts the whole society. This alone is reason to read this book.
Read excerpts from this book here and here.
Leila Levinson, a graduate of Vassar College, Indiana University in Bloomington & the Univesity of Texas School of Law lives in Austin Texas with her husband and two sons. Her writing has appeared in the Texas Observer, the Austin American Statesman, & WWII Quarterly. Visit her blog.
(See another review of this book, here)
Check out our interview with the author of Gated Grief.
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