Irretrievably Broken is the haunting, funny, and heart-breaking account of German ex-patriots Nora, Ruth, and Bettina Adler. The plot takes us across the U.S, to the bush country of Canada, and to a cold case murder scene in Germany as this multi-cultural family deals with diversity and racism. The novel is populated with unforgettable characters in a candid exploration of race.
Nora is obsessed with her Native-American husband she’s about to divorce and consumed with guilt over a friend she may have caused harm; Ruth, whose blunt statements are often inappropriate, witnessed a brutal murder and saved a life during the Holocaust; and 12-year-old Bettina, the mixed race child of an African-American and a white German, is devastated by the death of her mother and neglect of her father. Irretrievably Broken is a novel of family and friendship, of love and loss, of guilt and forgiveness.
Irretrievably Broken is the haunting, funny, and heart-breaking account of German ex-patriots Nora, Ruth, and Bettina Adler.The plot takes us from Seattle, WA cross-country to Washington, D.C., to northern Saskatchewan and to Germany, as one multi-cultural family deals with diversity and racism.
Horticulturist-turned programmer Nora Adler is obsessed with Max, whom she’s about to divorce, and consumed with guilt over Luther.The two men, like two sides of one coin, dominate her daytime and nighttime dreams.Nora’s mother, caustic and wry Ruth Adler whose blunt statements are often inappropriate, is the thorn in Nora’s side that will not let her descend into grief.With the arrival of Nora‘s niece from Germany, stunning 12-year-old Bettina, the product of a black African-American mother and a white German father, the action heats up.
Relations become strained as Nora tries to adjust to surrogate motherhood and Ruth, who originally opposed Bettina’s parents' marriage as well as her move to Seattle, quickly switches allegiance.When summer vacation arrives the three Adlers, accompanied by Bettina’s African-American godmother, Mary, take a cross-country trip to Washington, D.C.During this journey Bettina becomes the catalyst for the adults to talk about their lives, each revealing secrets from their past.After a lifetime of silence, Ruth talks of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass,when as a girl not much older than her granddaughter she turned against her parents to save her Jewish friend, Frieda, from the Nazis.Nora, who became estranged from her family when she married a native Cree, recalls in lyrical descriptions her solo wilderness trek to the bush country of northern Saskatchewan, where her senses were opened by nature and where she met and married Max.In the end it's Mary’s startling confession and Frieda’s discovery in the ruins of her family home that heal old wounds.When Nora learns “the third truth of life” she is able to turn from the hurts of the past to the promises of the future.
Irretrievably Broken is populated with unforgettable characters in a candid exploration of ethnicity and race.It's a novel of love and loss, of guilt and forgiveness, of family and friendship.
NORA WAS MENOPAUSAL and Bettina pubescent when destiny brought them together again. Each had been abandoned for another woman by the men they loved most: the aunt by her husband, the niece by her father. On a drizzly afternoon in March, Nora and her mother, Ruth Adler, arrived at SeaTac to await the flight from Frankfurt.
“I do not think I will recognize her.” Listening to Ruth, one could never be certain if it was the directness of her personality or her German accent that lent a sharpness to her speech. Although she’d learned English at the German university back home, her use of grammar was almost too perfect. She used contractions sparingly, and her diction was a touch too precise for a native speaker. “What is taking you so long, Nora?” Ruth called now, turning back to hurry on her daughter who’d lingered near a reader board to verify the flight’s ETA. “People will think I talk to myself.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Nora pursued her mother through the crowded terminal, almost colliding with a young woman in a stylish black suit.
“You should buy yourself a costume like that,“ thought Ruth. “Poor little orphan, is what I said.”
“Bettina is not an orphan, Mutti.”
“When a child’s mother dies, she might as well be. Adam will marry again as he should and this time perhaps a proper German woman who may not want to be burdened with another’s child. Not that I had anything against Nandina, although I suppose I did not endear myself to her when I asked why her mother had given her such an odd name.“
“And what did she say to that?”
“That I probably would not like her siblings’ names either: Lotus, Wisteria, Cosmos, and Arthurium.”
“Anthurium. They’re plant names, Mutti.” Nora, horticulturist-turned-programmer, had been delighted to learn that her new sister-in-law’s parents had named their children after plants.
“Call me old-fashioned.”
“You never approved of the marriage from the get-go.”
“Not that I was asked,” Ruth sniffed. “Of all the suitable girls from good families, he picked her. Still, I loved her like a daughter. And when Bettina was born, surely, I was glad. Heaven knows, your father and I had little hope left after two miscarriages and Nandina rapidly approaching her middle years. But to bring a child of mixed blood into the world? And why you agreed to take her I will never know.”
When Max left her, Nora regretted many things, but none as much as not having children. Year after year, there had been no money, no home, no stability. They’d talked about children and would have them in the next town they moved to, the next place they lived in, and definitely next year. Now he’d probably have children with a younger woman she thought, bitterly, but for her it was too late. So, naturally, when her brother asked her to take Bettina she’d never thought about it twice. “I talked to Adam about it at the funeral, but then he insisted as long as he had Bettina he had Nandy. Now things have changed.”
“He is a man, Nora. With a new woman in his life, the child is in his way.” Ruth sighed, “I surely hope she is a good girl.“
“It’ll be just fine, Mutti.”
“She was a pretty little thing,” Ruth reminisced, “and she has Adam’s smarts, but it has been years since I have seen her.”
“Not that many.”
“When Hermann died, Nandina and Adam came for the funeral, but without the child. Time goes by, Nora; it has been two years since your father passed away. He was not an easy man to live with. Still, I miss him.“
Lamenting the fact that due to new security measures they would not be allowed to watch the plane taxi in, Nora guided her mother through the crowds of people to the area where the deplaning passengers would emerge. The few seats provided were already occupied.
“They were not yet in the new house when your father and I took our last trip to Germany.” Ruth clutched her purse to her chest as two men pushed past them. “We used to go every year and now it has been ages since I saw them. Honestly, Nora, I do not think the child will know me.”
“You’ll get to know each other again, Mutti, don’t worry. We should have moved in with you. You’d be there in the afternoons when Bettina comes home from school.”
“And what a threesome we would make: the widow, the divorced daughter, and the black grandchild. Just another nice German family. That’s what the neighbors would say.”
Turning to see who might have overheard, Nora reflected on how her mother, who identified herself readily as German, never failed to be astounded that others did not appreciate being classified by their ethnicity.
“And what will happen when you find yourself a new husband?”
“I’m not even divorced yet.”
“You will be tomorrow and should have been sooner,” her mother continued unperturbed. “He was a bad man, a drinker. You worked your fingers to the bone and when you lost your looks, he left you. Still, you are lucky to be rid of him. Your father used to say to me, ‘Ruth, one day Nora’s Indian will kill us all’.”
As Ruth Adler talked on and on, Nora took out her compact and smoothed her blonde hair, which she wore falling straight from a center part as she had for years. This is the face of an unhappy woman, she thought. Disappointment, disillusionment, discontentment. It was all there, line by line. The tears she’d cried and those she didn’t. The days, the nights, the hopeless hope, all of it had diminished the blue of the eyes, blurred the strong features, notched the heart-shaped lips. When was the last time she’d looked at her face and thought it beautiful? When was the last time he had?
“You had such sweet little dimples when you were young. Now just look at you.“ Ruth took a tube of moisturizer from her purse and handed it to her daughter. “I get this from the woman who does my facials. It is expensive, but definitely worth it. And why not do something about your hair, Nora? As my mother always used to say, every age has its beauty. You do not see me letting myself go,” Ruth boasted.
Nora put two fingers across her lips, a gesture she’d developed of late. If it was an aid to contemplation or to keep her thoughts from escaping, she could not have said. It was true, her mother looked much younger than many of her contemporaries, even with her silver hair, which she wore pulled back from her face. Ruth was a tall woman who held her head high and her back straight. And it wasn’t only her posture that belied her years, but an alertness in the eyes and her entire demeanor. Her grooming was impeccable: a dab of rouge on the apple of each cheek, delicately defined brows, expertly applied muted lipstick, perfectly manicured nails. A clothes horse, Ruth used scarves and jewelry, wools and silks to her advantage and never stopped being dismayed at Nora‘s jeans and t-shirts, khakis and cotton blouses.
“Hurry, Nora, here they come.” Ruth pulled her daughter into the small gap between herself and a woman in a lovely blue sari, closing ranks against a group of adolescents who, laughing at some boast one of them made, vied for a place near the rope that separated all from the arriving passengers. “I will not recognize her; I just hope you do.”
As the first passenger came into view--a man carrying briefcase and laptop--a little boy who’d been sitting on the floor picking his nose, escaped from his mother’s reach and ran to greet him. A pretty young woman bouncing her ponytail was claimed by a jock in white shorts; a stooped old man halted traffic as he searched for someone in the crowd squinting his watery eyes; a noisy group of bicyclers in black-and-yellow jerseys gave some type of team cheer as they caught sight of the youngsters behind Nora. And, finally, there was Bettina in jeans under a black coat, an oversized bag on one arm. She came at them with the gangly swagger of Adam’s puberty years, her dark eyes and wild mane evoking a youthful Nandina, the skin a shade or two lightened by the genetic tumbling of ebony with bone.
Nora called to her, but the girl took refuge in Oma’s arms. Ruth hugged and kissed her, held her at arm’s length to marvel at how tall her granddaughter had grown.
“This is Tyler,” announced Bettina directing Nora’s attention to a blond, androgynous fellow carrying backpack and guitar case.
“Are you from Frankfurt?”
“Chicago. Came here to check out the music scene. You know any funky places to stay?”
“The Olympic. That’s where all the music people stay when they’re in town.”
“Aunt Nora, what’s our phone number?”
Nora took a pad and pencil from her purse and scribbled down a number. Handing it to Tyler, she said, “Hope everything works out for you,” then picked up Bettina’s bag in one hand and propelled the girl with the other toward baggage claims.
“I’ll call you, Tina.” He waved the scrap of paper Nora had given him.
“Tina?” huffed Ruth when the girl had gone to watch the bags slide down the chute, “did he call her Tina? Nora, you should not have given that ... that hooligan your phone number.”
“I gave him the number of the Arboretum,” chuckled Nora.
“There is a smart girl, my Nora. Did you see his torn pants and long hair?”
“He’s probably alright, but she’s 12 and he must be 18 or more.”
“Heidi she is certainly not,” sighed Ruth. “Wearing lipstick at her age. Nora, I tell you now, you are like the farmer who had no problems so he got himself a pig. I think you will have your hands full with this one.”
from "Kristallnacht" chapter:
In 1938, Ruth was 13 and Frieda was 12 years old. On Wednesday night, the 9th of November, Ruth’s parents hosted a dinner. The guests were the chief of police and his wife, Herr and Frau Schmidt; her father’s former law partner and spouse, Herr and Frau Doktor Falkenberg; the county assessor Herr Blum and Fräulein Lorentz. Lina prepared sauerbraten, knödel and blaukraut, and after dinner Ruth helped with the dishes.
“Something odd about all of this tonight,” Lina told the girl while she put the leftovers in an earthenware pot to take home.
“What do you mean, Lina?”
“When was the last time your parents had guests in the middle of the week?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember because it never happened. As long as I’ve been in this house, guests have come on Saturday night or Sunday noon.” Lina inspected a fork Ruth had washed and handed it back to her. “Gravy,” she surmised. “Besides, your father told me I should go right home tonight. He says, ‘Lina, don’t stop at the pub tonight. Be sure you go right home’. That’s what he said to me.”
“See? See, what I’m telling you?” Lina’s eyes shone with the zeal of the amateur sleuth. “And you want to know something else that’s peculiar? Then he tells me I should be sure to lock the front door on my way out.”
“Lock the front door?” Ruth was astonished.
“See?” Lina wiped her hands on her apron. “Herr Hornberg is not an idle talker. When he says to lock up when there are still guests in the house, he knows something.”
“He knows what?” Ruth pressed her. “What does he know, Lina?”
“He knows what he knows.” Lina pulled her apron over her head and hung it on a peg on the kitchen wall.
Behind the closed living room door her mother played Strauss Lieder on the piano. “What does he know and what do you know?” Ruth suddenly felt queasy. She took Lina’s arm. “You have to tell me.”
But Lina shook off the girl’s hand. “I’m just the maid. Here, help me,” she said and made Ruth hold her string bag while she put the dinner leftovers in it. Saying, “What would I know, a simple woman like me?” she walked out to the coat closet.
Running after her, Ruth took Lina’s coat off the hanger and held it for her. “I won’t tell Vater, I promise.” With no response forthcoming she wheedled, “Lina, you know you can trust me. Remember the big secret you told me about your landlady, and I never told anyone.”
Lina buttoned her coat and pinned her old black hat onto her hair. “I’m saying nothing, only that if I lived at the end of the street,” she pointed toward the Nussbaum house, “I wouldn’t sleep so easy tonight.”
“Wait,” Ruth called, but Lina, pocket book on one arm and string bag on the other, turned about and marched down the stairs and out the front door.
Ruth wanted to run after her to question her some more when the living room door opened. “You’re not going out, Ruth?” her father asked. Inside her mother sang, “Mein Vater hat gesagt, ich soll das Kindlein wiegen ...”
“Just going to lock the door. Lina had her hands full.”
“You do that, Ruth, and then you come right back. Your mother wants you to play for our guests.”
“And I don’t feel like rocking for just a single egg,” they sang in the living room. There was laughter.
“Father, please, not tonight. I have a history test in the morning and I need to read over my notes. Will you tell Mother I’m sorry?”
Her father was a tall man who held himself very erect--two traits he’d passed on to Ruth and for which she was grateful. She thought him very handsome with his sandy-colored mustache, his gray eyes, and straight nose. Now her father narrowed those pale eyes at her. “You go lock the door first then you tell her yourself, or she’ll think you’ve forgotten your manners to go to bed without saying goodnight to our guests. And, Ruth, under no circumstances are you to leave the house tonight. Is that understood?”
After locking up, Ruth went to the living room to make her curtseys to their guests, and to kiss her father and mother goodnight. Upstairs in her bedroom, it calmed her to peer out at the dark, quiet street. Everything was normal, she assured herself, as she sat down at her small desk in the corner of her room and opened her notebook. On one side of the page she’d written down significant dates of the Crusades. Now she covered up the other side with the corresponding events and began to mumble:
“1095 - Pope Urban II began the Crusades to drive the Turks out of the Holy Land
1204 - Constantinople sacked during the fourth Crusade
1229 - The Albigensian Crusade in France against Christian heretics
1290 - Jews massacred in England”
Reading the last line, Ruth had that queasiness in her stomach again. She put down her book and walked to the window. Everything was quiet, but now she saw a policeman by the lamppost across the street. Probably Officer Krause, the chief’s driver, come to drive them home after dinner, she assured herself as she closed the drapes and went back to her notes, where she read, “1306 - Jews massacred in France.”
Was that a scream? Ruth turned off her desk lamp and waited. In the dark, she made her way back to the window, lifted a small corner of the drape and peered out. Nothing. Krause still stood in the same spot rubbing his cold hands. Then she thought she heard shots. She crept underneath the drapes and opened the window, just a crack. Voices came from the Market Square. Men’s voices. Singing. Shouting. Like a rally. From the living room came the sound of the gramophone and from the streets the sound of breaking glass. And Officer Krause just stood there and rubbed his hands. She wanted to run downstairs and tell her father and Herr Schmidt. She wanted them to get Krause to stop those shouting men, but she knew they wouldn’t do anything. ‘If I lived at the end of the street,’ Lina had said, ‘I wouldn’t sleep so easy tonight’.
Ruth pulled a cardigan from her chest of drawers and buttoned it over her dress. She tiptoed into the hallway and down the stairs. Through the partially open living room door she caught a glimpse of her father’s sweaty red face as he danced the polka with Frau Schmidt. In his office, Ruth took the cellar key off its hook and went out the back. From the street she heard the hammering sound of men’s boots on cobbles. They paused in front of her house, shouted “Heil Hitler,” then continued on. Ruth mirrored their uphill movement, hiding behind backyard bushes, crawling around hedges, and climbing over fences. When she ran through the Nussbaums’ garden her hem caught on a rosebush, and she cried out as she lost her balance and fell. Kaiser came running, barking loudly, and behind him was Frieda.
“Kaiser,” Frieda shouted, “Kaiser.”
In a moment, Ruth was on her feet again, but not before the men had also arrived at the house. There were uniformed policemen and others. She recognized the brothers Georg and Johann Wohnreich who owned the brewery; Herr Schröder from the bank and his son Hans in his Hitler Jugend uniform; Herr Gelsinger from the bakery was with Albert and Julius, his two apprentices; and there were others she didn‘t know. Now one of the policemen smashed the front window with his rifle stock. Frieda had not yet seen Ruth and the breaking glass caused her to turn back toward the house. Ruth grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth. “Frieda, it’s me,” she whispered. “Don’t make a sound.”
from "Holocaust Museum" chapter:
“YOU LOOK SO PATRIOTIC, MUTTI.” Nora and Ruth stood in line at the visitors’ entrance of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. After all the matching up of skirts and tops, Ruth thought she’d be most comfortable in her navy-blue summer dress, over which she’d draped a red-white-and-blue scarf.
“And you look so German, schwarz-rot-gold.”
Nora hadn‘t meant to wear the black-red-gold German national colors, not today and especially not in this place. Nevertheless, here she was in satin gold-on-gold embroidered slacks she’d bought in Charleston, a crimson silk blouse, and black shoulder bag and sandals. Self-consciously, she worried about who might have overheard their conversation. A backward glance revealed a young couple in matching I heart NY t-shirts and two nuns chaperoning a group of teens.
“Oh, Mutti, I wish you‘d said something before we left the hotel.“
“You are who you are, Nora, and do not ever try to deny it.” Ruth fidgeted with the brooch that held her scarf. “And why worry about your appearance? You are not the one going up on stage.”
“Are you sure you’re up for this?”
“Nothing is ever easy.“ They‘d come early to tour the museum before they were to meet Frieda at the Helena Rubinstein Auditorium at one o‘clock, where she and Ruth would give testimony as part of the First Person Survivors Program. “Still, I slept.“
“I’m surprised any of us slept after Mary’s revelation.”
Last night, while Tykisha brought out her dolls and she and Bettina had set about shampooing and styling their coiffures in the bathroom, the adults had huddled in the sitting room. What should they tell the girls? When should they tell them? Who should be the one to tell? In the end, the others had agreed with Mary, who believed that children didn’t need to be told everything, or certainly not everything at once.
“Just listen to them,“ Mary had smiled at the giggles and squeals emanating from behind the closed bathroom door. “The only thing I can get my mind around right now is going to Germany and having it out with Adam.”
Last night they’d also decided that the Holocaust Museum would be much too emotional for the girls. Instead, Mary would take the kids to see the pandas at the zoo with a stop at the Lincoln Memorial and the Frederick Douglass house. And tonight, on their way to dinner at Frieda’s friends’ home in Georgetown, they simply must visit the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, a station on the Underground Railroad during slavery days.
The Holocaust Museum wasn’t what Nora had expected. Pushed by the masses of people behind them, she and Ruth crossed over a crude steel platform into the Hall of Witness. There were raw brick walls, exposed beams, steel plates, rivets, bolted metal, turnbuckles connected to tie rods. “This place makes me very uncomfortable,“ Nora glanced at her mother to find out if she shared her unease.
“Are you taking your vitamins? Perhaps you are anemic.“ The line stopped momentarily. The old man in front of them turned, revealed a tuft of faded, wispy hair. “When we were children,” Ruth recalled, “Lina would put a nail in an apple, let it rust, and make us eat the apple.”
“You ate a rusted apple?”
“Klaus told Mother and she made Lina stop it.”
“I wonder where he is?” Of course, he’d be there for his sister’s testimony, he’d assured Nora when he’d called last night, but better not tell Frieda. He wanted to surprise her. ”You don’t think anything happened to him?“
“I never worry about Klaus,” said Ruth, brushing a wisp of hair from Nora’s face. “I have enough worries with you. Ever since we came to Washington you have been fretting. Do you get enough calcium?”
“I’m all right,“ Nora shrugged off her mother’s hand. “I just don’t like being crowded like this.“
Whenever Nora was in crowds it brought back a memory of her wilderness experience, of how she’d come to feel about herself after she and Max had walked out of the bush, the sky above them slate-gray. Of how they’d walked into town, bringing with them the first snow. She had a new knowledge of herself as a physical being in her prime, a giant compared to the birds and squirrels with whom she’d shared her daily life. Foxes and wolves hid from her, bears and moose respected her space. She’d gone to the bush, a willowy city girl looking for adventure, and come back a seasoned woman who’d lived off the land.
Upon their return to Lost Mines she’d felt this change in how she stood with a proprietary stance, walked with a long stride and expansive arm movements. When her boot accidentally kicked a chair at the Gray Goose Hotel, she would not have been surprised had it broken into sticks. After spending most of her days outdoors, the crowded dining room provided not enough room for her to walk between the tables. The air was heavy with cooking odors and indoor smells. Nora thought she could sniff out the dampness in the bedding, the very mildew on the grout between the bathroom tiles.
When she and Max had come back to LA, she’d taken a job at a nursery. Later, she became an independent landscaper, or horticulturist, as she liked to call herself. She designed, planted, and maintained gardens for other people. Often it was no more than mowing lawns and trimming bushes. Yet, she’d not minded as it had allowed her to spend most of her day in the open air. The claustrophobia was worst for Nora when she entered a large enclosed building, as the one they were in now. With no trees, no hills, no sun, or moon as reference, she lost her sense of direction. As these thoughts went through her mind, she pictured herself back at her indoor job and vowed not to return to it.
“Mutti, do you know where to go?” Nora asked, as she saw no signs to guide them.
“Let us simply try to stay together,” snapped Ruth, taking Nora’s hand.
“But where do we go?” Nora searched out the diffused light from the sky, which filtered in from skylights obscured by heavy steel trusses. “So many people. I can’t breathe.”
“You are at that age now.” Ruth always referred to menopause as that age. “If you do not get a good grip on your nerves now, you will have all sorts of trouble later.”
Nora increased her grasp on her mother’s hand as some of the youths broke away from their group and pushed between them. People were all around in a claustrophobic knot pulling them apart, pushing them forward in the narrow hall. “Mutti,“ she called out as her hand slipped from Ruth’s. There was something oppressive about this place, thought Nora, and felt a great urge to escape back outside into the hot morning sun. She would gladly welcome the D.C. humidity, which, according to the forecast on the morning TV news, would reach 83 percent today.
“Stay where you are,“ Ruth shouted across a sea of bodies. “I will come to you.”
However, there was no escaping the thrust of the masses, which swept Nora up a walkway and away from her mother. People moved as one, shoulder to shoulder.
Searching for Ruth in the crowd, Nora glimpsed a Luftwaffe pilot back near the entrance. A reenactment? Perhaps there were other men in German uniforms here. She’d heard of exhibits that showed SS insignias and swastikas of various design.
Nora hadn’t really thought how she’d feel about being in a museum that bore witness to the evil done by her own race. And here she was, wearing the German national colors. Her own subconscious expressing the guilt she didn’t know she carried? Ahead of her was the I heart NY couple. Nora watched the woman take her heavy dark hair in both hands, pull it above her head, and let it cascade down the back of her snowy shirt like a winter waterfall. She distinctly heard the woman say the words “six million“ to her companion. Behind Nora was a group of tourists, whose guide spoke to them in a language she couldn’t identify. Still, she thought, she clearly heard him say the word “Nazi“.
As a student, Nora had resented some of her teachers’ stereotyping of Germans: logical, orderly, punctual, etc. Still, all of it had merely added up to boring while she’d wanted to be seen as liberated, even a bit wild. A few times, she’d had to rebuff someone who’d sought her collusion--with a wink or a smile--in an anti-Semitic remark or a racist joke. But all in all, being German had never before meant what it meant today at the Holocaust Museum. Was this why her mother had never visited Israel? Nora turned to search out the Luftwaffe pilot, but he was gone, or maybe he’d only existed in her overwrought imagination. On the glass bridge up above, she saw a guard--a German guard?--and shuddered at the thought of a prison with no place to hide. Wiping her forehead, she remembered her mother’s warning. Get a grip, Nora, she reminded herself. It’s not the SS, just menopause. She’d go up to the bridge and look for her mother from there.
I love this book!
I love this book!, January 14, 2009
5* reveiw by Mona L. Moloney (Western Washington) - See all my reviews
Irma Fritz's first novel is ambitious in scope - and she delivers. A cross-country road trip - embarked upon by the protagonist, her mother and her niece - serves as the backdrop for exploring timely and timeless issues of race, class, violence and personal tragedies. On the journey, they reconnect with characters whose unforgettable stories touch and sometimes intermingle with each other. Their secrets - haunting, sometimes shocking, and unflinchingly honest - unfold in layers. Ultimately, what is Irretrievably Broken? And when do we know?
Ms. Fritz's character development is flawless - her characters come alive and we want to know them. This is especially true of Nora and Ruth, the two main characters, but the entire cast is compelling. Since they all are exceedingly different in both background and personality, I am duly impressed by the author's skill.
I believe this is an important book with a great deal to say about loss, remembrance, forgiveness, and self-realization. I think it would be a great selection for Reading Groups. Due to its multicultural, cross-generational perspectives, there would be much to discuss."
An Exploration of the Cement of the Family
4* review by Dennis Fleming "Author: She Had No Enemies: A... (New York, NY and St. Louis, MO)
Irma Fritz's "Irretrievably Broken" is an intimate portrait of complicated characters whose family ties bring them together for a cross-country trip in which interrelationships are re-examined or develop. The prologue led me to think the story was going to go in one direction--the protagonist's (Nora) romantic attachment to Max, her ex-husband. This subplot maintains a planet-to-sun orbit around the story that develops when Nora's mulatto niece, Bettina, arrives from Europe after losing one parent, and Ruth, Nora's mother, move the story into a unique cross-generational family drama that takes us across the country, into Canada and, eventually in flashback, to Europe.
Nora carries us into the story through a series of flashbacks to her life with her unfaithful husband Max, a failed actor. The author seamlessly weaves past and present, folding scenes into each other with such ease that, like the character, I felt like I was living in both present and past simultaneously--as if I was having the flashback. I really appreciate having that experience and envy the author's skill at rendering it.
Also, the writer's attention to detail creates credible scenes and puts me right in the moment. The main character Nora, a computer programmer who named her cats Dotcom and Dotorg, has an encyclopedic knowledge of botanical terms that boggles the mind.
As for characters, once you've met them and spent a little time with them, you can read the dialogue without attribution and know who is talking. This is not easy to achieve and Ms. Fritz accomplishes it skillfully.
Just when I thought this story was about Nora and her difficulties raising her European niece, Nora's authoritarian mother, Ruth, is thrown into the equation and they take a cross-country trip to visit friends and family. During the ride, Ruth takes us into an incredible and personal Holocaust story about her childhood in Germany. I don't want to give that story away, except to say it really got to me. Nazi horrors told through the eyes of a child--and these are well-executed (no pun)--make me literally shudder. The author creates tension by revealing the horror in small doses and by having Ruth's daughter and great niece (the latter imbued with the pester power of a twelve-year-old) beg for more.
On the flip side, the multiplicity of characters (some speaking German, some speaking Spanish) and the different locations and situations introduced occasionally left me rudderless. At times, there is too much chatter between the characters. However, it's all tied together, and I have to admit that I am biased. This is not a book I would normally read. It's a tribute to the author that she could pull me in and hold me.
The story takes an interesting twist that I didn't see coming and, again, hats off to author Fritz.
This ambitious, cross-generational, interracial, multicultural story is so well realized that it's hard to believe the author's statement that the characters are fictional. If they are, this is one creative mind at work.
THREE GENERATIONS FIND EACH OTHER
5* review by Jeffrey S. Hepple January 31, 2009, Waco, TX
Faced with a divorce from her unfaithful husband, Nora Adler's life was already in turmoil when her precocious and troubled, half-black niece, Bettina, arrived from Europe. As a diversion, Nora, with Bettina and her mother, Ruth, sets out on a cross-country road trip, during which, the three women discover each other, and themselves.
Ms. Fritz does a masterful job of interweaving the stories of the three main characters, and through Ruth's childhood memories, we witness a very personal and haunting view of Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic policy in Germany.