Tag Archives: self-identity

Lorri M. Book Review: The Scientists-A Family Romance

the scientists2 The Scientists: A Family Romance, by Marco Roth is an unusual memoir, and one, in my opinion that is written more to find psychological and familial truth through the act of writing, than to portray one’s life.

During the 1980s through 1990s fear of AIDS was rampant throughout the country. This fear and is the foundation upon which his teenage years was built. Roth learns at the age of fourteen that his father, Eugene, has AIDS, and is told he acquired it from a needle that slipped out of a patient’s arm. Roth was told never to tell anyone of his father’s condition. Secrecy was the basics of his upbringing. He carried that burden for years to come.

The Scientists is a metaphor for the life of denial that Roth’s parents lived, harboring the secrets that caused Eugene’s (his father’s) AIDS, and eventual death, and harboring other secrets. This superficial exterior was fostered even after the death of Roth’s father.

Roth began to question the stories he had heard over the years, and when his aunt, Anne Rolphe’s memoir was published, he began a journey of searching for answers. His search took him through memory’s closets, and through moments too painful for his parents to acknowledge or want to remember. The time period cast a deep stain on AIDS, which caused the individuals concerned to be frowned upon. They often became societal outcasts, even within their own family members.

That, in itself, is a sad state of affairs on the human condition, and on humanity’s lack of understanding, over AIDS, homosexuality and the discrimination that lies behind ignorance and the lack of acceptance of others.

Roth’s parents were affluent, and believed that education was the answer to the future. This played heavily in his life, as he became a precocious child, playing the violin, reading Shakespeare, etc. These educational and cultural efforts were part and parcel of the Roth lifestyle.

Through his memoir he was able to move forward, and come to terms with the secrets and familial dynamics that encompassed his life. He was able to understand the social stigmas forced on those who had AIDS, the discrimination spewed out to homosexuals, and the entire spectrum surrounding those issues that led to generations of secrets. What he was not totally able to come to terms with was the total effect of how he was affected by his father’s insistence, and how the ghost of his father still lingers.

Emotions range the gamut within the pages, with Roth often wandering in limbo, trying to find the answers, answers of identity and truth. He questions himself, who he is, and whether he carries the genes of his father’s philandering.

I can not say that I enjoyed reading The Scientists: A Family Romance, it isn’t that type of memoir. I feel that the word “romance” in the title was the author’s use of the word for the love of the father/son relationship, the love of researching, learning, writing and setting the familial record straight. The book became a passion for Roth, and he carried his notes and drafts wherever he lived.

For me, it isn’t a book of inspiration in a spiritual sense, but a book that might inspire others to search for familial truths. But, I will say that the writing is definitely illuminated with vivid imagery and emotional content. Marco Roth writes with honesty and conciseness in exhibiting his emotions and thoughts, his search for truth and identity. He does not hide what was unspoken, or carry the secrets forward. That is the strength the reader finds within the pages of The Scientists: A Family Romance.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Book Review: By Blood: A Novel

bybloodanovel By Blood: A Novel, by Ellen Ullman is a novel that is filled with a unique perspective, as far as the narrator, who is one of the main characters, is concerned.

The narrator is a voyeur of sorts, not in the sense of being a visual “peeping Tom” type, but in the aspect of listening to a patient and her therapist from behind the wall of his office. The wall is on the other side of the shared wall in the therapist’s office. The narrator came upon the fact that he could hear their conversations when the therapist turned off the sound machine, because the patient was distracted by it. Both patient and therapist have no idea he is listening.

He ends up becoming obsessed with the patient and her story. She is adopted and wants to learn about her birth parents. She feels disconnected from her adopted family, and disconnected from life, and she thinks this might help her to feel more grounded. Her desire to know the foundations of her birth is strong, and she hopes it will bring her some answers and also some resemblance to another person. She is feeling the fact that she doesn’t look like anyone she knows.

The story takes place during the 1970s, in San Francisco. It is a time of protests, government scorn, and lifestyle issues. The patient (the second main character) is going through an identity crisis, ancestral, genetically, and lifestyle based (she is a lesbian). She is aware that she was born in Germany, and aware that the war and postwar had their affects on her being given up for adoption. She was finally able to find out where she was born and that she was given up through questioning her adoptive mother. She was brought to a Catholic organization in America, and from there given over to her grandfather, who adopted her. From there, she eventually was adopted by his own son, and we learn the reasons why.

The narrator, hearing her story becomes intensely fascinated with it, and becomes obsessed with the urge to find her birth mother. He has his own set of issues, emotional and mental ones, therefore the obsession. Some of his issues also deal with genetics.. He ends up finding out the information, piece by piece, and with each new fact, he assumes an alias and sends the information to the patient.
The story takes many twists and turns, and the mystery is solved. The patient eventually meets her birth mother and is told the facts of her birth. She also meets another family member and notices the resemblance between the two of them immediately. She feels a connection, one that she has never felt before.

The patient relays everything to the therapist through their sessions, and the narrator hears everything said in each session. Suffice it to say, that the sessions are therapeutic for the three of them: the narrator, the patient and the therapist.
I will not detail any more of the story line because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The premise is an interesting one, and the details within the pages are extremely vivid, with strong imagery. There is much to ponder, such as nature versus nurture. Where does our foundation actually come from? Does our DNA, our genetic composition, play a significant part in our personality? Does our family environment count for the person we become?

Ullman writes with a unique voice, and one that generates masterful prose, prose often sounding a bit out of sync with today’s expressions and writings. For me, that was due to the time period, and the fact that it was post World War II. I didn’t find it unusual to hear some antiquated sounding prose, or prose that sounded a bit too cultured at times.

I do recommend By Blood: A Novel, written by Ellen Ullman, and feel the uniqueness of the story is important in the context of Jewish identity, World War II, familial connections, nature versus nurture, and self-identity.

On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, I rate it 3.5.


Filed under Fiction, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels, World War II