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How to Make a Life: A Novel
by Florence Reiss Kraut

Published: 2020-10-13T00:0
Paperback : 328 pages
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“An engaging and heartfelt portrayal of intergenerational trauma and hope.”?Kirkus Reviews

When Ida and her daughter Bessie flee a catastrophic pogrom in Ukraine for America in 1905, they believe their emigration will ensure that their children and grandchildren will be safe from ...

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Introduction

“An engaging and heartfelt portrayal of intergenerational trauma and hope.”?Kirkus Reviews

When Ida and her daughter Bessie flee a catastrophic pogrom in Ukraine for America in 1905, they believe their emigration will ensure that their children and grandchildren will be safe from harm. But choices and decisions made by one generation have ripple effects on those who come later?and in the decades that follow, family secrets, betrayals, and mistakes made in the name of love threaten the survival of the family: Bessie and Abe Weissman’s children struggle with the shattering effects of daughter Ruby’s mental illness, of Jenny’s love affair with her brother-in-law, of the disappearance of Ruby’s daughter as she flees her mother’s legacy, and of the accidental deaths of Irene’s husband and granddaughter.

A sweeping saga that follows three generations from the tenements of Brooklyn through WWII, from Woodstock to India, and from Spain to Israel, How to Make a Life is the story of a family who must learn to accept each other’s differences?or risk cutting ties with the very people who anchor their place in the world.

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Excerpt

Jenny
1986

It had been little symptoms that finally led them to Dr. Paul Winter, the neurologist recommended by their GP: a weakness in his legs, a slight loss of balance, an occasional trembling in his arms and hands. They told each other that it would turn out to be nothing but the aging process. But when she thought about it now, she realized that those first symptoms had not only been about his physical condition, but they already signaled the end of the self-confident, take-charge man he had been his whole life. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. How one generation’s choices and actions affect the next generation is an important theme in How to Make a Life. What are the ways this is expressed in the book through the generations? Have you experienced or seen repeated generational themes in your own life and family?

2. Most families have secrets. What were the secrets that Weissman family members kept from one another and what impact did these secrets have?

3. In what ways does Ruby’s mental illness affect the family? Do you know someone in your life whose mental health or physical health needs impacted on your family’s functioning? How did this affect your family?

4. Bessie and Abe make a bargain with Victor to get him to marry Ruby? Did they think this was a fair and just bargain? What were the family’s feelings about it? What were the consequences of this agreement?

5. Jenny is the self-described “Watcher” of Ruby. How does this responsibility frame her life? Who benefited from this arrangement? How?

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