The Absent Moon: A Mem­oir of a Short Child­hood and a Long Depression

Luiz Schwar­cz; Eric M. B. Beck­er, trans.

  • Review
By – February 27, 2023

In this con­cise mem­oir, Brazil­ian author-pub­lish­er Luiz Schwar­cz traces the roots of his life­long depres­sion, look­ing back not just into his own past but also those of his father and grand­fa­ther in Nazi-occu­pied Hungary.

Schwar­cz, now a grand­fa­ther him­self, felt the begin­nings of depres­sion in his ear­ly teenage years. While the signs came and went — com­pul­sive col­lect­ing, fre­quent overeat­ing, sleep prob­lems, and fits of ragenone of them alone was enough to diag­nose him with bipo­lar dis­or­der, a diag­no­sis that would come much lat­er in life. 

The author then writes of his grand­fa­ther, who pushed his nine­teen-year-old son, András, out of a train that got stuck on the way to Bergen-Belsen camp. His grand­fa­ther per­ished, but András sur­vived. In 1947, he went to Brazil, where Schwar­cz was ulti­mate­ly born.

The author met his wife in his teen years and raised a fam­i­ly. But the events that haunt­ed his inner world didn’t just con­cern the war. 

Through­out his youth and adult­hood, Schwar­cz felt the crush­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty of being an only child, bear­ing the emo­tion­al brunt of his par­ents’ tumul­tuous rela­tion­ship: I learned the mean­ing of the word guilt from a young age, as some­thing foun­da­tion­al to my exis­tence … ” His par­ents leaned heav­i­ly on him when they were in con­flict, and they cred­it­ed him with reunit­ing them after a peri­od of sep­a­ra­tion. As Schwar­cz notes, “ … this was my dilem­ma: I felt cru­cial to a mar­riage that had every rea­son to go wrong, and cru­cial to the hap­pi­ness of a man I was pow­er­less to make hap­py. Still a child myself, I lacked the means to under­stand any of this.”

Two activ­i­ties pulled him out of his depres­sion: soc­cer and the Jew­ish youth group. But even in these moments of gen­uine joy, he still expe­ri­enced anx­i­ety and a fear of failure.

This is a sto­ry of inter­gen­er­a­tional pain and its rever­ber­a­tions in every­day life. Through­out the mem­oir, we see a boy, a teen, and a man fight­ing demons — oth­ers’ and his own. That fight is some­times suc­cess­ful, some­times not, but it’s always deeply human.

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