... gripping ... Frankel wants us to know that he is making steady progress toward healing, crediting the audacious act of writing this memoir as part of the reason why. But we sense otherwise. Frankel has been pretending to be other than he truly is for so long that it comes naturally to him, and his proclamations of improvement seem forced. It is not that he is trying to be deceitful, but abandoning pretense in favor of authenticity is a new skill for him, and he has trouble relinquishing his old habits of trickery ... In many ways, Frankel seems like a man still haunted by two distinct voices competing for dominance in his mind, both of which he reveres ... Frankel is troubled by these whispered decrees, with their accompanying guilt and shame. He clearly sees merit in both arguments, which is why figuring out what kind of man he should be remains an elusive task. His bewilderment is evident on every page of this captivating work.
... a distinct account that is part history of the Holocaust, part memoir of a parent living with mental illness, and a behind-the-scenes look at the first Obama campaign and administration ... Readers of biography, history, and politics, and those interested in the effects of trauma on subsequent generations, will appreciate this thoughtful book.
Frankel could have written several books from all this rich material ... for this reader, even though the story contains layers of drama, it somehow feels hollow at its core. Frankel’s detailed probing of his own depth of emotion, his truly monumental suffering, gives the memoir the feel of a therapy session. The existential themes of identity, loyalty, mental illness, the Holocaust, family secrets, the search for meaning, love and marriage sometimes prompt repetitive ruminations and a torrent of questioning ... When Frankel offers a psychological insight, he seems to accept it only if an expert weighs in ... Nor is there any apparent capacity for leavening his suffering with some humor or self-irony ... In the end, Frankel seeks to unify his narrative by tying his mother’s mental illness, which he diagnoses as borderline personality disorder, and his own suffering to the most monumental suffering of all: her parents’ Holocaust trauma. Clearly, trauma reverberates through generations. Still, I just couldn’t shake the sense that for Frankel, what his grandparents endured and survived is deployed as yet another piece of evidence to amplify and justify the magnitude of his own pain.
For students of American politics and history, Frankel’s apprenticeship with John F. Kennedy confidant Ted Sorensen and later work for Obama provide welcome relief from the otherwise relentless emotional roller coaster. Frankel’s marriage and fatherhood add further poignancy to the narrative, and his well-delineated portraits of his cousins, aunts, uncles, and their extended families provide helpful context to the dramatic family saga. It’s a unique addition to the literature of personal accounts that keep the memory of the Holocaust alive at a time when it is 'getting harder to teach young people about [it] because the most compelling instructors—survivors—are all passing away' ... An emotionally powerful multigenerational memoir.