WHEN I THINK ABOUT MY FATHER ...

... the image that comes to mind is always a little hazy. I was 25 when he died and we lived under the same roof for the better part of 20 years, yet in some ways he was always a mystery to me. He was by nature quiet and reflective, but circumstances no doubt contributed to his reticence. He was 30 years old when he fled Nazi Germany and, like other refugees before and since, he left behind family, friends, language, and culture to start a new life in a country where he knew virtually no one. His father and many other members of his family were murdered in concentration camps. Given that harrowing history, it’s hardly surprising that he, like many other Holocaust survivors, preferred to stay low to the ground, to blend in and get along rather than draw attention to himself.

This book is, first of all, an effort to piece together the missing puzzle parts of my father’s life. Who was this soft-spoken, inscrutable man with a guttural accent and a mischievous sense of humor? A man I loved dearly and yet knew so little about. It’s also an effort to figure out who I am. For better or worse, I inherited my father’s tendency to observe the world from a distance rather than engage it directly, and to keep other people at arm’s length. Through the process of writing this book I have come to understand that my father’s absence, as much as his presence, has had a profound effect on my life.