Memoirs can be a challenging genre to write. What to put in? What to leave out? How honest do I want to be about my life? What am I willing to reveal and why do I want to write this at all? What do I hope my readers will gain from reading about my life and memories?
And if the memoirist has a conscience at all, this too must be considered: What about the people who are part of my story? Is it fair to reveal their lives while I mine the depths of my life? All these questions, and more, arise every time someone decides to write a memoir.
Sonia Taitz certainly has her own motives and reasons for writing The Watchmaker’s Daughter, her memoir growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors -- her father a master watchmaker and her mother an emerging concert pianist. Her journey begins with the added weight of this heavy past before she even understands what that means. She describes her life as “binocular” – the scars of war and the Holocaust through one lens and the hopefulness of life in America through the other. The contrast caused a blurred vision for the young Sonia. Old world behaviors of unquestioning adherence to religion, faith and observance, including obedience to Father were demanded while the freedoms and possibilities of a childhood in America beckoned.
As Sonia grows up under “the watchful approval” of her father, she wins his attention with her astute mind and ability to learn easily and quickly. When Father dotes on her, paying attention with pet names and loving care, she feels like one of the watches he so tenderly and patiently fixes. She learns that his master watchmaker abilities saved him during the war, and later finds that he saved many others in “Oskar Schindler style,” bringing fellow prisoners into his shop and covering for them as watchmakers to save their lives.
Sonia’s mother was on the road to be a concert pianist when the war interrupted her lessons, performances, and ultimately her life. Surviving the war with her mother, her life is narrowed and diminished by losing the music, the culture and the refined world that she knew pre-war. She still plays, and tries to transfer her love of music and piano to Sonia, but that is neither Sonia’s skill nor desire in life. What her mother retains is an essence of what is beautiful in life - music, flowers, hopefulness and love.
Sonia grows up in a home fraught with the tension between two people who have suffered greatly, each often listing losses as if it were a competitive battle, arguing over who lost more family, potential and future. This competition of sorrow can only bring bitterness with no healing in sight. Sonia, in some ways, becomes their battleground. Whose influence will win? Which path will she follow? Whose advice will she take?
Sonia takes several detours along the way in ultimately forging her own identity, separate from the future either Mother or Father imagined for her. We may not always like what she does and says, but her path is her own, and she wants to share it with us, her readers.
To find our more about her reasons for writing this memoir and gain additional insights into the story of her mother, father, and emerging self, join me at the upcoming ORT “Lunch With a View” book and author event to hear Sonia speak and meet her in person. Patricia Volk, author of Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me will also be speaking at this luncheon event. Read and come meet the writers of two interesting memoirs about young women forging their paths to adulthood. I'd love to meet you as well!