Veronica’s Grave by Barbara Bracht Donsky
Publication date: 10 May 2016
Approximate reading time*: 4 hours, 30 mins
Published by: She Writes Press
Available at: Amazon.co.uk
(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)
When Barbara Bracht’s mother disappears, she is left a confused child whose blue-collar father is intent upon erasing any memory of her mother. Forced to keep the secret of her mother’s existence from her younger brother, Barbara struggles to keep from being crushed under the weight of family secrets as she comes of age and tries to educate herself, despite her father’s stance against women’s education.
The story is not only of loss and resilience, but one showing the power of literature—from Little Orphan Annie to Prince Valiant to the incomparable Nancy Drew—to offer hope where there is little.
Told with true literary sensibility, this captivating memoir asks us to consider what it is that parents owe their children, and how far a child need go to make things right for her family.
“The radio forgets how to play the songs it once knew, and the sun forgets to take naps on Mommy’s bed. Everything’s topsy-turvy. Mommy’s gone, and she’s taken away all the music.”
The disappearance of Barbara’s mother happens when she is very young, and Bracht Donsky immediately transports you into the mind of a toddler: confused, reeling in shock, unable to comprehend why no one even speaks her mother’s name. The double-dose of pain that she feels, her grief at her mother’s absence and her bewilderment at the removal of all traces of her existence, are authentically described, without being melodramatic.
The story is one of coming of age and self discovery, but also of loss and a need for closure. Like all coming of age stories, we are watching a young person work out how to separate herself from the binds of her families expectations, and to find the self-belief to pursue her own path. In this case, her family binds are intrinsically tangled with the grief that holds her back.
To begin with, the narration felt so far inside Barbara’s head that I felt disconnected from the action, and the other characters, but as the story continues, this feeling of disconnection begins to release. As Barbara becomes her own person, the narration’s engagement with the world outside her head becomes stronger.
It would be easy for a memoir that centres on deep pain to indulge in that pain, but this is not the case with Veronica’s Grave. Instead, everything is presented calmly, rationally, and with precision.