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Story Telling as Survival Strategy

The Reason for Wings by Joyce Reisner Kornblatt Syracuse University Press, $24.95
Glass Hearts by Terri Paul, Academy Chicago Publishers, $24.95

RACHAEL SILVER, THE LYRICAL AND BRAVE narrator of The Reason For Wings is a Holocaust survivor who escapes one fascist regime only to arrive at the “next round of pain for which it seems we are all rehearsing,” in Argentina during the 1970s. Serene Spirer, the spirited adolescent of Glass Hearts. escapes Hungary before Hitler’s reign. Her family’s displacement during World War I foreshadows the forced migration of European Jewry Serene gains a father in America, while Rachael loses a daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild in Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s. Both narrators are concerned with the preservation of their family history; both also view the act of storytelling as an act of survival.

Rachael’s grandfather disappears in the Danube Delta at the beginning of The Reason For Wings, magically transmogrifying into a pelican. Other supernatural events abound, as if the horrors of both world wars were too grim to narrate realistically. Rachael’s mother, for example, survives a brutal bombing by miraculously staying underwater.

The most powerful section in The Reason For Wings is Rachael’s depiction of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” Her daughter is murdered not only because of her opposition to the government but also because she is pregnant. Whether or not the baby survives is left intentionally vague by the author, who hints that Rachael’s missing granddaughter has probably been adopted by a military family (not supernatural at all; this actually was believed to have happened frequently under Argentina’s oppressive regime). Rachael’s persistent search and the expected recovery of her granddaughter suggest that the victims of history can ultimately conquer their oppressors.

The supernatural also plays an important part in Glass Hearts. Serene frequently speaks to ghosts, is telepathically connected with her father in America, and creates spells with the magical glass heart of the tide. At times these elements distract from the narrative. Serene’s mother’s struggle to raise a family as a single parent, and the loss of her Hungarian home because of the first World War, are far more compelling than the world of spirits conjured by the author.

Serene finds freedom in America, while Rachael ends her story hoping for a world in “which nobody seemed to be suffering and death was a rumor best dismissed.” Both these moving novels celebrate the dignity and courage of ordinary women facing extraordinary times.