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Places We Left Behind, A Memoire in Miniature

Places We Left Behind, A Memoire in Miniature

By Jennifer Lang

Reviewed by Nina Reshef

"Places we left behind" is not a run-of-the-mill memoire. At the least, its format, what might be considered as written in free verse, with each line centered on the page, attracted my eye: no stodgy New Times Roman font, nor is it blocked on each side like a child's building blocks. And no one stanza is exactly like another. For some, this may relay messiness. However, for me, the text's design invites you to forget the rules. This seeming disorder, as Lang states in her introduction, was selected to convey something of the emotions and events portrayed on the respective page; and to open your mind and heart to this charming, approachable and beautifully written coming-of-age story.

What we find here is an inquiry of what coming-of-age – or growing up involves. She agrees that her life-line has involved facing dispensing with childish behaviors, learning to accept responsibility, growing in mind and self-acceptance, and making sacrifices if they benefit those she loves, her husband and children. But she frees this process from the accepted rites of passage that mark reaching these stages in her social milieu. She doesn't think of bar/bat mitzvah as crucial, nor is graduating from college, acquiring and changing a profession, publishing a book, or even getting married and having children as the exclusive watersheds in one's personal development. Instead, she views each event as a crucial arena for personal development, for gaining insight into oneself and the world, as gaining control over her life and the first step up the staircase (but not necessarily the escalator) of living one's life fully and lovingly. This may take a decade, or two or three. Her style and format reflect this freedom to be an adult on your own terms without, of course, losing sight of her family's needs and wants.

One major milestone in Jennifer's life involves her decision to become one half of what we in Israel call "mixed-marriages", by that I mean one member of the couple is Israeli, the other let's say American or German; one is observant to varying degrees, the other secular; one is Ashkenazi, the other Sephardic; and so forth. The point is the pair come together in the boxing arena of marriage. In this setup, perspectives, assumptions, languages, cultures, career paths, experiences, places called home and, of course, accepted ways of coping, expressing opinions and arriving at solutions may be so contradictory that each contender may want to give up.

Life for Jennifer, who made aliyah as an act of faith and hope for the future, involves hopscotching, each time for seven years, for diverse and valid reasons, from one country to another and then back again, to finally settle in the home she and her husband Philippe, the love of her life, hold in common: Israel.

In each of the 62 chapters, usually covering a bit more than one page (less than 135 pages of text), Lang sketches just enough of the context to help us understand her feelings, perceptions and insights. Though modest in length, each chapter tells enough of her story to keep us reading. She speaks to the memories of so many here in Israel. For example, in the chapter Green Light, Red Light (pp. 57-58), when discussing whether to continue their residence in France, her husband Philippe's homeland, or move to Oakland, where Jennifer's parents live, she writes:

P: I'll do whatever you want. You decide.

J: His reaction stuns me. I snatch a tissue and wipe my eyes.

P: If we stay in France, I can find a job there, Philippe says. But you'll have to tell your parents we're

not coming (p.58).

She ends the chapter with: "Weeping turns to sobbing as Good Jewish Daughter Guilt engulfs me" (p.58). Sound familiar?

Why is she weeping? As a 21st century woman, she wants to fulfill her dreams and potential and those of her husband at the same time. And just like couples everywhere, Jennifer and Philippe find themselves frustrated. But both continue trudging on.

I consider this book, modest in size but big in content, to be Jennifer's gift to her husband and family, and to her readers. By describing how she came of age, so openly and lovingly, she says "Thank you" to all who helped her along the way.

I enjoyed every sentence.

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer Lang settled in Tel Aviv, where she runs the Israel Writers Studio ( An accomplished essayist, Jennifer has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays award. After fulfilling her responsibilities as assistant editor for Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, she can often be found on her yoga mat, refining the practices she has been teaching since 2003.

Published by Vine Leaves Press, 2023.

Softcover, 135 pages.

Available from Amazon and Alibris.

Cost $12.29-$14.00 + shipping.

eBook: pending



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