Shad­ows We Carry

  • Review
By – April 24, 2023

Shad­ows We Car­ry opens with the assas­si­na­tion of John F. Kennedy on Novem­ber 22, 1963. It’s a defin­ing moment in his­to­ry, and, as Bron­ka Lubin­s­ki astute­ly com­ments, Noth­ing will ever be the same again.” The nov­el is Meryl Ain’s sequel to The Take­away Men, but it can cer­tain­ly be appre­ci­at­ed as a stand­alone read. It deft­ly and engag­ing­ly illus­trates the effects of the soci­etal changes and upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.

Judy and Aron Lubin­s­ki, both Holo­caust sur­vivors, and their fra­ter­nal twin daugh­ters, who were born in a DP camp, all car­ry deep fam­i­ly secrets from their past lives as they strug­gle to assim­i­late to Amer­i­can life in Queens, NY

Both sis­ters attend Queens Col­lege, but that is per­haps where their sim­i­lar­i­ties end. The pop­u­lar and bub­bly JJ (Johan­na) dreams of becom­ing an actress, while the sen­si­tive, polit­i­cal­ly aware, and intro­spec­tive Bron­ka is the college’s news­pa­per edi­tor. Although they are both affect­ed by the mores and expec­ta­tions they encounter, it is through Bronka’s eyes that the sto­ry­line unfolds. Her inner voice dri­ves the nar­ra­tive for­ward, and her life expe­ri­ences mir­ror the con­fus­ing and tur­bu­lent times.

Bron­ka encoun­ters ever-present sex­ism as she seeks entry into jour­nal­ism school. She is rel­e­gat­ed to a women’s” report­ing role at work and in the nascent McCarthy and RFK polit­i­cal cam­paigns. She often ques­tions her iden­ti­ty, self-worth, and aspi­ra­tions, while her sis­ter plays out her life in a more tra­di­tion­al and accept­ed manner.

But the novel’s scope reach­es beyond just one fam­i­ly. The extend­ed Jew­ish fam­i­lies of the neigh­bor­hood, friends, cowork­ers, activists, Catholic priests, and ex-Nazis and Nazi hunters all have a role to play.

In this well-researched, char­ac­ter-dri­ven sto­ry, Ain exam­ines many themes and issues with insight and com­pas­sion. She folds top­ics such as fem­i­nism, anti­semitism, gay rights, abor­tion, and sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Holo­caust sur­vivor con­cerns into the char­ac­ters’ lives. Because Ain thought­ful­ly inter­weaves numer­ous his­tor­i­cal events, sig­nif­i­cant nos­tal­gic details, and cul­tur­al and geo­graph­ic ref­er­ences, the char­ac­ters’ sto­ries will res­onate deeply with those who expe­ri­enced the era.

At its crux, Shad­ows We Car­ry asks how past lives and buried secrets affect fam­i­lies from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Do the shad­ows we all car­ry deter­mine who we are? How do we learn to live with them? Who bears respon­si­bil­i­ty, who bears guilt, and who must right the wrongs?

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions