My Real Hue
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli's most recent novel is "Deborah Rising" (HarperColllins 2016), the story of the first woman to lead a nation in history. www.azrielibooks.com
My Real Hue by Daniel Yves Eisner is a memoir that begins with a boy’s childhood in post-WWII New York and continues through several decades, spanning a life rich with family conflict, personal introspection and, ultimately, wisdom.
The author begins with a wonderful portrayal of growing up under the glow of a strong, dominant mother, who had barely escaped the Nazi occupation of France and, for the rest of her life, longed for her homeland. The book’s particular strength rests in the author’s poignant descriptions of contrasting childhood experiences, which set the stage for a life of complex and conflicted emotions. Here is one example, which is worth quoting at length. On the one hand:
“Living two blocks from the ocean, my parents took my brother and I to the beach regularly. … My lips longed for the cold relief of soft-serve ice cream. Sizzling hot dogs were wedged between warmed buns and distributed for quick lunches. Children passed by with cotton candy clouds that engulfed me in a veil of sweet smoke; as satisfying and addictive for me as a True Blue was for Nanny. … We spent afternoons swimming, snacking, and getting caked in sand.”
On the other hand: “One Saturday evening, when my brother and father occupied the other toilets in our home, I found myself knocking gently on the door in my parent’s bathroom. “Ma,” I whimpered. “I have to go.” … “Not until I’m finished in here,” she snapped back, my nervous fingers slipping off the knob. … I simply cried and defecated as silently as possible until my mother swung open the door. In the course of cleaning, howling, and disciplining, she made sure I knew how my accident ruined her Saturday night.”
The book continues with equally perceptive recollections, including, for authentic historical understanding, the family’s relationships with maids of color. While critical of his mother, the author cannot help but write of her with humor and sympathy. For example, showing her attachment to France, he writes:
“Unlike most mothers of the time, she didn’t fill her days with parenting. Ma dabbled in whatever suited her ever- swaying interest. One week it was music foundations, then next it was political fund- raisers. When she inevitably tired of the American working world, she sought a position at a travel agency, where she could argue for the superiority of France on a full-time basis. The Paris-heavy itineraries she pushed at travelers lit a fuse that saw her get hired and fired from several different travel agencies before she finally launched her own. When the burdens of entrepreneurship proved too heavy to bare, she threw in the towel and took a vacation; to France, of course.”
My Real Hue lives up to its title with detailed, honest and revealing accounts of growing up, confronting pain—and even inflicting self-injuries—as well as dropping out of college, searching for meaning within the family (“I weighed every decision heavily against whether it would help or hurt my mother.”) and then away from it, until the fog of emotional hurt, confusion and sensitivity gives way to a growing clarity about life, self-identity and the path to healing and happiness.
Highly notable is the author’s deft treatment of his long and difficult journey of sexual doubts, barriers, and ultimate liberation. “Going to the gay bars was an important continuation of my coming out process. Like many men who first come out, I wanted to gravitate to settings with other gay men. I craved spaces to express my sexuality and feel welcome, safe, and uninhibited. … After over thirty years closeted, going to gay bars and being with other gay men was euphoric.”
Presaging the eventual breakup of the bond with his mother, the author’s ultimate attempt to share the journey of self-discovery is blunted, dramatizing the perpetual injustice and imbalance that has permeated the central emotional relationship of his life: “Two days after she received my letter, my brother forwarded me an e-mail sent to him by my mother. She stated, “Please tell your brother that at the risk of never seeing him again, I refuse to go to a psychologist or counselor of any kind. He knows very well what I think of all those people, they’re all crooks, crutches, and charlatans.”
In summary, My Real Hue by Daniel Yves Eisner will make you laugh and cry, and entice you to reflect on your own life’s journey. It succeeds in sharing a unique life with mesmerizing clarity, emotional depth, sharp humor, and a keen eye for detail that makes the book indelibly memorable. This is a genuine story of joy, pain and the courage it take to prevail against life’s strong headwinds. Bravo!