Lucy Lehman has a secret. Everybody loves her eccentric family but nobody knows what's really going on. Her mother is a beautiful dance teacher, whose creative movement classes can calm the most incorrigible Bronx delinquents. Her father, just returned from World War Two, is a working class hero. The trouble is, he’s still at war. More familiar with battle fields than a home with a wife and kids, he does combat with neighbors, his employers, his children, and above all his wife. A charming oddball in the straight-laced 1950’s, Tippy Lehman is overwhelmed by her husband's war, leaving the kids to hold home and family together.Told with wit, understanding, and remarkable pluck, The War at Home is part memoir, part novel, and all heart as it recounts the story of an inseparable brother and sister flourishing despite a household in which insanity is the norm. Every page summons the lost world of the outer boroughs of New York City in the 1950's, where apartment houses tower over abandoned orchards, lonely kids roam the woods of Bronx Park unafraid, and the Bronx River ripples with the hope of Huckleberry Finn's Mississippi.
"Nora Eisenberg's engaging debut novel takes place in the years after the heroine's father has returned from World War II only to ravage his own family. Eisenberg's "memoir-novel" recounts the savagery that family members can and do dole out to one another… With her spiky, keening prose, Eisenberg depicts the world from a child's point of view, deftly mixing nostalgia and knock-kneed vulnerability."
—The Washington Post Book World
"Nora Eisenberg paints an intriguing portrait of a red-diaper childhood in a bygone middle-class Bronx...establishing through the wide-eyed point of view of 6- year-old Lucy Lehman an unconventional, darker side of post-World War II America."
—The Boston Globe
"Ralph and Tippy Lehman, the parents in this touching autobiographical first novel of a Bronx childhood, give new meaning to the word eccentric as they careen from one wild scenario to another. Ralph is the World War II-decorated father whose "battle fatigue" so clouds his thinking that he sometimes mistakes his wife and children for the enemy. In addition to the war in his mind, the war between Ralph and Tippy flares up periodically and they inflict wounds on each other and on the kids, Lucy and Nicky. No ordinary 1950’s mother, Tippy is a temperamental artist who breathes drama and culture like oxygen and descends into pills and madness in the latter half of the book. Lucy and Nicky mostly raise themselves, weathering storms, neglect and abuse at home and, in many cases, caring for their parents. Their self-reliance and fearlessness are remarkable. To smooth out the narrative’s rough edges, Eisenberg (English, CUNY) weaves in patches of tranquility, moments of hope, and comic relief. This poignant and unforgettable first novel deserves the widest possible audience."
—Library Journal, Starred Review
"Billed as a "memoir-novel," this book by Bronx native Eisenberg is a tenderly written yet harrowing portrayal of a family’s disintegration in the years after World War II. Lucy Lehman is just a child when her father returns from the war. According to Lucy’s mother, Tippy, he was once a sweet young man, but now he is angry and violent, his screaming rages most frequently directed at Lucy’s rebellious older brother, Nick, and Tippy, a children’s dance instructor (her real-life image graces the book’s cover). When Lucy is 10, whatever tacit agreement the family had abruptly ends, and her father leaves the house and shacks up with a mistress named Liberty in the first of several dalliances. This development throws Tippy into a downward spiral of prescription drug abuse and bizarre, erratic behavior that forces Lucy and 13-year-old Nick to fend for themselves. To escape the "chaos of home," they rely on their self-sufficiency as volunteer gardeners at a park and botanical garden and then at the family’s Camp Pohogo, where a parental reunion occurs. The reunion, however, like most of Eisenberg’s book, remains joyful only for a fleeting moment. By Lucy’s teen years, Tippy’s over-the-top rampages (à la Mommie Dearest) force brother and sister to run away, and though Nick revels in his independence, Lucy eventually returns and decides to face womanhood back in the hopeless reality of life with Mom in the Bronx. There are no blue skies in Eisenberg’s barely fictionalized and often excessively grim account, and this would prove daunting if her prose weren’t so graceful. A powerfully somber meditation on the indelible mark of familial strife on children, this impressive first novel is infused with genuine compassion and sorrow."
"No punches are pulled in this gritty "memoir novel" by Eisenberg, who draws on her own Bronx upbringing to depict a nightmare. Eisenberg’s tale is so poignant that it’s…Painful to read, yet hard to put down; a family drama akin to those of Eugene O’Neill."
"Lucy Lehman wins our hearts. She is resilient, she is smart, she is loving. No ordinary coming-of-age story…[this] is, in fact, a harrowing story, albeit one told with humor and compassion. One that, despite the pain that continuously breaks through like grass on an abandoned stretch of cement, ends triumphantly."
—The St Petersburg Times
"The War at Home is one of those accidental gifts for which one feels grateful, a powerful novel, superbly crafted."
—Forward, America's Jewish Newspaper
"Remarkable. Thrillingly well-crafted. A brilliant novel."
—Robert Olen Butler
"This is a profoundly moving and intelligent evocation of the magnificent terrors of family life, the ones that bind us to childhood forever: beautifully written, deeply felt."
"The War at Home is a novel of a child's brave journey though family madness, war and peace. Nora Eisenberg suffuses this story with the haunting immediacy of a first-rate memoir. The time is the late forties and fifties. The landscape is the Bronx, whose parks and gardens are mythicized as romantically as Bronte's English moors. This is an original, startling, and compelling novel."
"The War at Home is a vivid account of the domestic battleground as seen through the eyes of a sensitive child. Nora Eisenberg brings wisdom and acuity to an eccentric, ramshackle family whose warriors are bound by the intense love and loathing only blood ties can engender."
—Lynne Sharon Schwatrz
"What an amazing book! I found myself laughing out loud at many of Eisenberg's beautifully crafted zingers and at other times swept away by the poignancy of the family drama and the brilliant recreation of the past. This memoir-novel—the triumph of a survivor—is essential reading for our times--rich in humor, understanding, forgiveness—and most of all—full of love."
|Nora Eisenberg is a Professor of English at the City University of New York (LaGuardia). Her work has appeared in The Partisan Review, The Village Voice Literary Supplement, Choice and Tikkun. She is the co-author of four popular books on writing, most recently The Questioning Reader (Allyn & Bacon). She lives with her family in Manhattan. Her latest novel, Just the Way You Want Me published by Leapfrog was given Foreword Magazine's Best Novel of the Year Gold Award.
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