The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich
By Howard Reich. Perseus, $25.
This new book by the Chicago Tribune jazz critic is an intriguing take on the Holocaust memoir. Reich’s mother, Sonia, was a Polish Jew who fled persecution with his father, Robert, and landed in Chicago. Raising Howard, they taught him to mask his heritage, and it wasn’t until a move to Skokie that the family felt comfortable with their Jewishness.
Interestingly, the Holocaust is the backstory. The action takes place in the late 1990s and early part of this decade. Sonia is living the life of a grieving though not outwardly depressive widow. But over the course of a few years, she, claims to be speaking with her departed husband. In the winter of 2001, she packs her bags and refuses to return home, claiming a man has threatened to “put a bullet in [her] head.” Though it takes some time, Sonia is eventually diagnosed with late-onset post–traumatic stress disorder, a time bomb the Holocaust placed in her mind half a century before.
Reich’s prose is occasionally too plainspoken, leading to some clunky epiphanies and undercutting much of the suspense. But there’s no denying the power of this story, and one gets the feeling Reich is just trying to get out of its way. Though the Holocaust is the trigger, Reich is able to turn his mother’s story into a fearful look at the way the past never lets us rest.—Jonathan Messinger