In this carefully researched and hauntingly written memoir, Lisa Gruenberg not only records her own life, but also that of relatives long lost to darkness, terror, and murder. In dreamlike sequences she weaves known facts of the lives of those lost into tableaus of imagined family dinners, conversations and leisure activities set in the Vienna landscape. She especially brings back to life some of the girls and women whose fates remain largely unknown. Indeed, she embodies her aunt Mia as she walks in her shoes, sees with her eyes, and speaks with her voice. These flights into the past are presented within the framework of Gruenberg’s own family, her husband and daughters, and her father. He escaped from Vienna in 1939 and shared few of his memories with her, and that only late in life when disease had beaten down his defenses against remembering.
The trauma and feeling of guilt often described in Holocaust survivors is reflected in this memoir, also the burden shared by so many of their children and grandchildren. At the same time, this tale is one of lightness and finding balance in all these difficulties and trials. There is an endless network of cousins and friends of cousins, one more colorful than the next. They are spread all over the world and Gruenberg seeks many of them out in her search for the past.
At the center stands author’s ability to look at the truth unflinchingly, including truths apparent in herself. She shares her insights in all their nakedness, starkness and, yes, hilarity. This, together with the author’s luminous prose, make My City of Dreams an important landmark in 21st century testimony of the Holocaust.
Lisa Gruenberg is a physician, medical educator, and writer based in Boston. She is a graduate of Williams College and Albany Medical College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She has taught creative writing at the Karolinska Institute, the Asian University for Women, and Harvard Medical School. Her essays have been published in Ploughshares, Vital Signs, Hospital Drive, The Intima, a Journal of Narrative Medicine, and The Michigan Quarterly Review. Her short story, Keiskamma, won the 2012 Artist’s Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.