Title: A Reunion of Ghosts
Author: Judith Claire Mitchell
Publication Date: March 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit. As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.
I had a really tough time with A Reunion of Ghosts which I found a bit disappointing because I’d been looking forward to reading it for a while. It’s the story of the Alter sisters who are in the midst of planning their death. This book is their suicide note. The Alter family is cursed by the great-grandfather who developed the chemical that was used as a lethal gas in WWI and the lethal agent in the gas chambers of WWII. This is a sad tale, with little happiness or redemptive quality. It’s a story without hope. The “family curse” is an inescapable burden to them. To them, they’ve been doomed from the start.
Suicide hangs over this family at every turn. Aunts, parents, grandparents, have all killed themselves from the shame, sadness, and anger at the devastation that hangs in their family history. Eventually, suicide becomes their own personal destinies. Even as one of the sisters thinks to fight it, and even makes a significant attempt to leave this tragic destiny behind, she fails and ultimately succumbs to the curse.
It’s a very sad story. The sisters are trapped by the sadness of the inescapable. We get to know the sisters as much as we get to know their ancestors and their history. Where they come from informs who they are.
I’ve decided that dark humour just isn’t my style. The reviews that I’ve read about this book seem to all be good, but I found that this type of humour was lost on me. I found this book deeply depressing and sad. It was very hard for me to finish and it took me a long time to read.