In Lauren Fox’s Send For Me “Regret is a low, constant throb,” as the trauma of the Holocaust at once tears apart and binds together three generations of mothers and daughters. Annelise, the daughter of bakers Julius and Klara, is able to escape Germany with her husband and daughter before it’s too late, but her parents are unable to. Years later, Annelise’s directionless granddaughter Clare discovers Klara’s plaintive letters to Annelise, as she tries to escape the increasingly dire situation to no avail. These words provide the voice of “The ghosts she traveled with” her whole life.
The Holocaust itself is a specter, never named, but looming, ever-present in all the characters’ lives. Fox portrays the rise of antisemitism — friends turning against each other, businesses closing — with a growing sense of dread. Send For Me does not go into depth about the horrors of the camps, but rather dwells on the fear and anguish surrounding them. Whereas plenty of novels detail the barbarity of camps, this one is more concerned with the echoes of the Holocaust, in particular the legacy of family separation, and the unstitched wounds of parting from the dearest people in one’s life.
The narrative weaves between the perspectives of Annelise and Clare, interspersed with Klara’s letters. While Clare’s contemporary problems may come across as more superficial compared to the plight of her ancestors, the novel’s construction proves that devastating historical circumstances don’t preclude young people from having their own concerns. “She can never admit it, having escaped with their lives, can never admit how much it hurts to lose so many nice things,” Fox writes of Annelise’s guilt, her anguish not only relegated to the people she has lost, but also the possessions. It’s a thought-provoking choice to show that suffering does not make one explicitly more moral, especially when Annelise nurtures an attraction to her husband Walter’s best friend.
One of the most affecting aspects of Send For Me is the depiction of mother-daughter relationships, in all their tumult and intimacy. Even when Klara’s relentless efficiency leads her to “become intolerant of her own daughter” because of Annelise’s dreaminess, their bond is able to withstand these fraught years. A young mother herself, Annelise is consumed with despair when she must leave her mother to go to America. As “refugees from an ancient sorrow,” Clare and Ruth cling to each other, as though to make up for what Klara and Annelise could never have, to the point where Clare won’t let herself leave the city of her birth to embark on a true adult life.
Send For Me is a testament to the intensity of motherhood, heightened in the context of intergenerational grief. For anyone who shares a close connection with or has lost one’s mother, this book will invoke an especially heart-rending reaction. Send For Me is a novel about how the past lives in the way relationships are formed, patterns are repeated or broken, and names are passed down.
Ariella Carmell is the Editor-at-Large of the Jewish Book Council. She graduated from the University of Chicago, where she studied literature and philosophy. Her writings have appeared in Alma, the Sierra Nevada Review, the Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere.