Diana M. Raab is a writer who teaches at University of California, her novel regina’s closet finding my grandmother’s secret journal hit a cord with me and I asked her if I could read it in addition to the poetry collection she has recently published (and which will appear at a later date on Poet Hound). I’ve always been fascinated by journals and my own grandmother writes off and on in hers and I write off and on in mine. Diana M. Raab’s grandmother committed suicide while Diana was young and the discovery of the journal provided vital clues to her grandmother’s life journey that finally took a tragic turn. Her story has won many awards including 2009 Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award and 2008 National Best Books Award for Memoir/Autobiography sponsored by USA Book News.
This memoir’s direct excerpts from the journal are insightful and at times heart wrenching. Her grandmother, Regina, lived in Vienna, Austria during the time that Hitler’s forces were bearing down upon them. Horrors were witnessed, uncertainty became daily life, and the loss of immediate family members through illness and mental illness consumed Regina’s world. Regina pulled herself and her sister to safety after losing their mother and finding that their father could not cope emotionally with the loss. What stuns me is that Regina and her sister had to live in an orphanage because their brother would not take them in because of his wife. She describes the search for a decent apartment first, then is shocked when a woman spits in her face out of disgust for so many seeking refuge in Vienna, then finally the rejection from her own family that leads her to the orphanage. Family dynamics come to play a vital role in shaping Regina’s resilient character and as she grows older she begins to cling more to her immediate family (her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter) as her body is riddled with pain from the events of her life along with her unhappy marriage. As Diana grows older her grandmother Regina becomes more depressed and eventually Diana discovers her grandmother’s body on a morning that her grandmother was supposed to be baby-sitting. Diana knew her grandmother as warm, loving, and caring and had no clues at her young age of ten to understand why her grandmother had done this. Diana calls her mother upon the discovery and the family comes home along with emergency personnel and closure is at hand when Diana finds her grandmother’s journal years later. Diana then goes through the painful and emotional turmoil of cancer and finds solace in her grandmother’s words and decides that it is time to share her grandmother’s story with the world as she wades through pain of her own. Diana carefully interviews relatives and searches for supporting documentation of events during the life and times of her grandmother and brings her memoir fully to life. It is a gripping read and one you will never forget.
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