THE WATCHMAKER'S DAUGHTER
We first meet Sonia living in a small, dark apartment in an immigrant community in Washington Heights with her brother, parents, and grandmother. Sonia grows up speaking Yiddish and learning the lessons of her faith. Nonetheless, as a young girl, the “American Dream” she learns about every day on the television enthralls her, even while it baffles her parents.
Sonia’s parents could hardly be more different. Her father is a stoic, pragmatic and mechanical, running the household as a “strict officer.” He starts, without any means, a watch repair business across from what will one day become Lincoln Center, only to see it rise to success, and later broken, when a robbery leaves him once again bereft of everything he’s earned. Taitz’s mother, a dutiful housewife, is still a child in many ways: hoping to be romanced, filled with memories of the past, both heartbreaking and joyful, quixotically encouraging her child into a more traditional feminine role despite all resistance. Working as an able assistant in her husband’s shop, the only thing that seems to unite the couple is their constant arguments and fighting; their struggle to maintain the values of old Europe despite the uncertainty and changing circumstances of their new American freedom.
It is with the final passing of her parents that Taitz’s story comes full circle. She now has a beloved family of her own, providing a different sort of fulfillment from her successful career. As her parents pass on, we can still see those complicated emotions of longing to please, an effort to understand, and a final appreciation of both her parents’ teachings and how far she has ventured, happily, to form a life of her own.
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Nominated for the Sophie Brody Medal by the American Library Association,
given to a book which expands understanding of the American experience.
“A heartbreaking memoir of healing power and redeeming
devotion, Sonia Taitz’s The Watchmaker’s Daughter has the dovish
beauty and levitating spirit of a psalm. The suffering and endurance
of Taitz’s parents – Holocaust “death camp graduates” who met at the
Lithuanian Jewish Survivor’s Ball in a New York hotel (imagine Steven
Spielberg photographing that dance floor tableau) – form the shadow-hung
backdrop of a childhood in a high-octane, postwar America where history
seems weightless and tragedy a foreign import – a Hollywood paradise of
perky blondes, Pepsodent smiles, and innocent high-school hijinks where
our author and heroine longs to fit in.
'Although the wonder years that Taitz scrupulously, tenderly,
beautifully, often comically renders aren’t that far removed from us,
they and the Washington Heights she grew up in, the shop where her father
repaired watches like a physician tending to the sick tick of life itself, the
grand movie houses where the image of Doris Day sunshined the giant
screen, have acquired the ache and poignance of a lost, Kodachrome age.
'A past is here reborn and tenderly restored with the love and
absorption of a daughter with a final duty to perform, a last act of
New Yorker and Vanity Fair cultural critic, and author
of the memoir Lucking Out
“This memoir of growing up as the daughter of a master watchmaker
who survived the Holocaust is also a haunting meditation on the nature of
time itself. [Sonia Taitz writes] with a painter’s eye and a poet’s voice.”
former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek, Managing Editor of
CNN, and author of the memoir My Long Trip Home
"An invigorating memoir about coming of age as the daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and Holocaust survivors.
Taitz’s (In the King's Arms, 2011, etc.) childhood was punctuated by stories of her parents’ and grandmother’s loss as well as their faith during their time in the ghetto and Dachau. Here, the author explores her early awareness of standing out as a child; the transition from desiring assimilation to appreciating her Yiddish heritage; personal relationships; a vow to her father; travel to Israel; the differences between life on the West and East coasts; the search for meaningful work after she realized a Yale law degree did not align with her artistic impulses; study at Oxford; marriage, divorce and remarriage; and the deaths of her parents, Simon and Gita. Motifs of time, filial love, the preservation of memories and the biblical story of Queen Esther weave throughout these chapters, which also stand alone as essays that capture the spirit of the postwar decades. Taitz evokes popular culture, from the silver screen to commercial jingles, and intersperses lighter moments with deeper considerations of suffering. Though the author focuses mostly on her experiences, it is Simon and Gita’s perseverance that truly shines—the former a respected watchmaker who began life anew more than once, the latter a concert-level pianist whose dreams were thwarted by war and who rescued her own mother from the Nazis' infamous selections. Taitz portrays her parents with tenderness while acknowledging their imperfections.
An affecting, brisk read, especially noteworthy for its essential optimism and accomplished turns of phrase."