Lillian Faderman is an internationally known scholar of lesbian history and literature, as well as of ethnic and immigrant history. She is the author of such acclaimed works as To Believe in Woman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Surpassing the Love of Men, I Begin My Life All Over, and her memoir Naked in the Promised Land.
Last Thursday, Faderman read from her new book, My Mother's Wars, at one of our favorite bookstores, the Brookline Booksmith. We recorded her reading a few passages from the book, and we're happy to share those videos with you here.
A story of love, war, and life as a Jewish immigrant in the squalid factories and lively dance halls of New York's Garment District in the 1930s, My Mother's Wars is the memoir Lillian Faderman's mother was never able to write. The daughter delves into her mother's past to tell the story of a Latvian girl who left her village for America with dreams of a life on the stage and encountered the realities of her new world: the battles she was forced to fight as a woman, an immigrant worker, and a Jew with family left behind in Hitler's deadly path.
The story begins in 1914: Mary, the girl who will become Lillian Faderman's mother, just seventeen and swept up with vague ambitions to be a dancer, travels alone to America, where her half-sister in Brooklyn takes her in. She finds a job in the garment industry and a shop friend who teaches her the thrills of dance halls and the cheap amusements open to working-class girls. This dazzling life leaves Mary distracted and her half-sister and brother-in-law scandalized that she has become a "good-time gal." They kick her out of their home, an event with consequences Mary will regret for the rest of her life.
In the first passage, Faderman reads about her mother's participation in a garment workers' strike.
In the second passage, Mary makes a desperate attempt to save the lives of her family in Latvia.
In the third passage, Mary has discovered that she is pregnant again, after having submitted to two wrenching back-room abortions. Unmarried, Mary faces the prospect of single motherhood.