Annie's Ghosts (Paperback)

A Journey into a Family Secret

By Steve Luxenberg

Hachette Books, 9781401310196, 432pp.

Publication Date: May 11, 2010

List Price: 16.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Fall '09/Winter '10 Reading Group List

“Every family has a secret. Steve Luxenberg discovers his shortly before his mother dies in her eighties. While she had told everyone throughout his life that she was an only child, his mother actually had a sister who had been institutionalized in her twenties. Luxenberg's journalistic approach to discovering the truth about his aunt is fascinating, as he mines the underlying story of secrets and their effects on families. A great reading group nonfiction pick.”
— Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
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Description

  • The Great Michigan Read 2013-14
  • Michigan Notable Book for 2010
  • A Washington Post Book World's "Best Books of 2009," Memoir
Beth Luxenberg was an only child. Or so everyone thought. Six months after Beth's death, her secret emerged. It had a name: Annie.

Steve Luxenberg's mother always told people she was an only child. It was a fact that he'd grown up with, along with the information that some of his relatives were Holocaust survivors. However, when his mother was dying, she casually mentioned that she had had a sister she'd barely known, who early in life had been put into a mental institution. Luxenberg began his researches after his mother's death, discovering the startling fact that his mother had grown up in the same house with this sister, Annie, until her parents sent Annie away to the local psychiatric hospital at the age of 23.

Annie would spend the rest of her life shut away in a mental institution, while the family erased any hints that she had ever existed. Through interviews and investigative journalism, Luxenberg teases out her story from the web of shame and half-truths that had hidden it. He also explores the social history of institutions such as Eloise in Detroit, where Annie lived, and the fact that in this era (the 40s and 50s), locking up a troubled relative who suffered from depression or other treatable problems was much more common than anyone realizes today.


About the Author

Steve Luxenberg has been a senior editor with the Washington Post for 20 years. He lives in Baltimore, MD. This is his first book.


Praise For Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret

Steve Luxenberg's hunt for the story of his hidden aunt is both a gripping detective story and a haunting memoir. It will leave you breathless. The personal tale is astonishing, and Luxenberg uses it to explore, in a deft and poignant way, the nature of secrets, memories, historical truth, and family love."—Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Bejamin Franklin

"Annie's Ghosts is perhaps the most honest, and one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. It is an exploration into a family's past, a relentless hunt that unearths buried secrets with multiple layers and the uncertain motives of their keepers, and one son's attempt to fully understand the details and meaning of what has been hidden. "What to believe?" Luxenberg asks many times and in many ways as he sifts through documents, his probing interviews, his parents' letters, his own travels and recollections. From mental institutions to the Holocaust, from mothers and fathers to children and childhood, with its mysteries, sadness and joy--this book is one emotional ride."—Bob Woodward

"Annie's Ghosts, his wise, affecting new mamoir of family secrets and posthumous absolution. . . . Beth told her son often that she loved him. Annie's Ghosts is his elegy in return, a poignant investigative exercise, full of empathy and sorrowful truth."—The Washington Post

"Steve Luxenberg sleuths his family's hidden history with the skills of an investigative reporter, the instincts of a mystery writer, and the sympathy of a loving son. His rediscovery of one lost woman illuminates the shocking fate of thousands of Americans who disappeared just a generation ago."—Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic

"Annie's Ghosts will resonate for many, whether the chords have to do with family secrets, the Depression, memories of a thriving Detroit, Holocausts horrors, or the immigrant experience.
"For me, the word to describe this book: Unforgettable."—Detroit Free Press

This is a book about secrets: family secrets, secrets as wounds, secrets that begin as tactics and end as shackles. Like an archaeologist obsessed, Steve Luxenberg digs to unearth the long-buried truth about his mother's hidden sister, and as we travel with him on his quest, we find ourselves digging alongside him, we start to see how the pieces fit together, and we not only learn about his family, we learn about lost worlds and a lost time, we learn about ourselves, and we learn about the universally wounding, shackling, echoing life of secrets."—Walter Reich, former director, Holocaust Museum

"Annie's Ghosts is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read . . . From mental institutions to the Holocaust, from mothers and fathers to children and childhood, with its mysteries, sadness, and joy--this book is one emotional ride."—Bob Woodward, author of The War Within and State of Denial

"I started reading within minutes of picking up this book, and was instantly mesmerized. It's a riveting detective story, a moving family saga, an enlightening if heartbreaking chapter in the history of America's treatment of people born with what we now call special needs."—Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand and You're Wearing That?

"This is a memoir that pushes the journalistic envelope . . . Luxenberg has written a fascinating personal story as well as a report on our communal response to the mentally ill."—Helen Epstein, author of Where She Came From and Children of the Holocaust