Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir

Reviewed by Judy Watters

Broken Birds Book CoverIn the world of dysfunctional family memoirs, Broken Birds has found a home. With the skillful writing of Jeannette Katzir, I found her story to be spellbinding. The memoir opens with a family of five grown siblings in the courtroom, four against one. I found it humorous as an immediate crash course is given on the intricate dynamics of the family. The lawyer quietly leans over to four of them and says, “No making faces at Steven or the judge! No cursing, no mouthing words, no sighing and no sounds of any kind!”

But the story of Channa and Nathan Poltzer’s individual WWII experiences are anything but funny. Channa’s loss of one relative after another in the war creates a sense of insecurity that time cannot heal. Meanwhile, Nathan’s “charismatic and fun loving” ways cause Channa to develop “irrational fears about Nathan, their marriage, and her future.” Shortly after Channa marries Nathan, her brother’s wife runs off with another man. The idea that Nathan may leave her at any time scares Channa, which adds to her insecurity and fear of abandonment. So she insists that they move away from the influence of her brother who can’t keep his wife, and she and Nathan move from Brooklyn to California.

The family grows to include five children who mature to adults in the home on La Jolla Street under the strong tutelage of Channa. Lessons of “Beware of strangers” and “Family will never let you down” are learned well in the Poltzer family. The effects of WWII are shown when Katzir says, “Adolf Hitler’s handiwork…had been instrumental in shaping my parents and destroying this family.” She continues to show that the war “never taught them how to balance money, family, loyalty, love and hate. Lacking those basic ideals, they raised us to view these same issues through untrusting eyes.” As the children marry and begin families of their own they try time after time to keep business deals between family members. But Channa’s lessons don’t hold up to the test in real life, and family members end up being huge disappointments in business and untrustworthy at best.

Channa possesses an uncanny negativity over her children’s lives. She fears that they will venture too far away from her and be lost to her forever. When the oldest son, Shlomo wants to look for another job, Channa tells him “If you quit, no one will hire you!” Her pronouncements are taken as honest fact. She does not like her children taking chances. She tells Shlomo “Better to stay and be miserable than try something else and lose…and you will lose.” And yet, in other ways, Channa shows that she fully supports her children and offers financial help in various business ventures, as well as starter homes. Perhaps all in an effort to keep them close to her.

Katzir acknowledges the Jewish stubbornness and pride that this family shares. It is that stubbornness and pride that makes the family’s insanity understandable and even reasonable.

This memoir reads so much like a novel that it continually drew me back to see what the insecure family members were going to fight over next. Through this vivid story of “untimely loss [of family] and suffered atrocities [of war],” Katzir reveals the damage that is handed onto the children causing them all to be broken birds.

View the Broken Birds website by clicking here

Categories Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Posted on October 25, 2009

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