Ruth Reichl, cookbook writer, former New York Times food critic, and former editor of Gourmet magazine, has written a short, thoughtful memoir that is a tribute to her difficult mother, Miriam. In the process she writes about her mother’s generation – women born in the early decades of the twentieth century whose lives were seemingly pre-determined; their life’s work was to be married, have children and keep house, no matter what their inclinations or talents.
This is not an explicitly Jewish story, although the main family members in this memoir are Jewish. In its broadest terms it is the story of the descendants of immigrants finding their way in America. Ruth Reichl’s grandparents, Emil and Mollie Brudno, were both the children of immigrants who came to America in the 1880’s and settled in Cleveland. They were upwardly mobile – Reichl’s grandfather was a doctor and Miriam’s goal was to be a doctor like her father, but both her parents discouraged Reichl's mother from pursuing a career in medicine.
Ruth Reichl’s experience of her mother was of a deeply unhappy, unfulfilled woman who only found contentment late in her life. Reichl’s reaction was to leave home as soon as she could, to stay away, and to be as unlike her mother as she could be. Later in her own life after her mother’s death, Reichl reassessed her mother’s life. This was precipitated when she found a box of old letters and notes that her mother had kept that reach back into her mother’s childhood, revealing to Reichl the full trajectory of her mother’s life. And the result of reading what was for Reichl heart-wrenching material is that she came to realize that in her own way her mother had released her from the expectations that she felt had crippled her own life and the lives of many in her generation.
Previously published as Not Becoming My Mother, the Penguin paperback edition has an Afterword where Reichl writes about the impassioned discussions that often took place amongst audience members when she was on her book tour promoting this memoir.
To read an interesting interview with Ruth Reichl in Jewish Women International where she talks about her Jewish identity, click here.
Emil and Mollie Brudno
Miriam Brudno – married Ernest Half; divorced; married Ernst Reichl
Robert Half – son of Miriam and Ernest Half
Ruth Reichl – daughter of Miriam and Ernst Reichl; married Douglas Hollis; second marriage to Michael Singer; author
Nicholas Singer – son of Ruth and Michael
New York City, NY