Friday, May 22, 2015
Guest Book Review: The Year My Mother Came Back
When Alice Eve Cohen was just 22, her mother died. Sad and angry, Cohen spent the next three decades attempting to forget her, pushing memories as far down and away as she could. Cohen was largely successful – until the day her mother appeared at her kitchen table.
Cohen chronicles her deceased mother’s year-long visit in her new memoir, The Year My Mother Came Back. Honest and poignant, Cohen shares the story of how through one of her most difficult years, she came to find peace not only with her mother’s early and devastating death, but also with her mother’s life; something Cohen could not understand when she was a child. Indeed, the timing of Mrs. Cohen’s return is not coincidental, as she comes back just as the author is experiencing multiple life crises, most of which revolve around her own status as a mother: the return of her eldest daughter’s birth mother and her younger child’s painful leg surgery and lengthy recovery. Notably, Cohen’s mother appears on the same day Cohen is diagnosed with breast cancer.
The return of her mother forces Cohen to re-examine their complicated relationship from years long past. Cohen paints her mother with a complex brush, and rightfully so. Cohen’s mother was a trailblazer, a feminist who spent countless hours campaigning for and researching civil rights issues at a time when America continued to resist such an expanding role for women. Cohen’s mother wasn’t like the other mothers; as such, memories of Cohen’s childhood include times both dark and uncomfortable. Cohen’s conversations with her mother provide her answers to questions she’s carried for decades and ultimately grant Cohen some peace, allowing her to forgive her mother or, more accurately, to accept her mother as she was, someone who did her best as a parent while staying true to herself as a woman.
And that leads to perhaps the most important lesson of The Year My Mother Came Back: Cohen, who is often hard on herself, learns to forgive herself for her own mistakes, both as a mother and as a daughter. In doing so, she finds room in her heart and her mind for her mother, gone so long and, yet, still so near. Cohen writes:
“I tried so hard no to think about her, for such a long time. Now she’s right in front of my eyes. . . . Memories flood into the space left empty for thirty years. I want my mother with me. At this moment I don’t need to be a mother, I just want to be a daughter. I need her right now. For the first time in decades, I want to remember everything about her.”
When I picked up this book, I wondered whether I’d be able to relate to Cohen’s story, given my good fortune at still having my mother alive and well. But Cohen’s story covers all the bases, making this book perfect for any woman. Cohen is an adoptive mother, a birth mother and, of course, a daughter. Cohen weaves her story with heartbreaking honesty, vivid images, and lovely prose that makes The Year My Mother Came Back a captivating and enjoyable read, one you will want to share with friends – and your mother, should you be fortunate enough to have her around, either at your kitchen table or else in your heart and your memories, where Cohen now knows she belongs.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is also part of BookSparks' Summer Reading Challenge for 2015.
Denise De Fabio Keliuotis is a Chicago native who recently relocated to Middle Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, three daughters, and four cats. She practices a little law and is still editing that memoir and volunteering with hospice patients and wondering if the addition of the fourth cat now qualifies her for the title of “crazy cat lady.” Visit her at her blog.