Hailed as “a deftly written memoir that will hold the reader’s attention from beginning to end” by the Midwest Book Review and described as “a magnificent memoir and an impressive, courageous piece of work” by Writers Digest Magazine, Alice Rene‘s Becoming Alice: A Memoir deserves every word of praise it got…and more. The memoir begins with a description of the Anschluss, when Hitler annexed Austria to the Third Reich in 1938. Becoming Alice describes the impact of these tragic historical events upon Austria’s Jewish population from the perspective of a six year old girl named Isle.
Isle and her family watch helplessly as the Nazi soldiers march down their street in Vienna. Faced with discrimination and the threat of deportation, they’re obliged to flee Austria for fear of worse. Taking only their most basic belongings, Isle and her father, mother and older brother Fredi risk a difficult journey through Stalinist Russia, at war with Germany, to eventually make their way to Portland, Oregon. The memoir reflects historical fact, but it’s as well written as the best of novels. In fact, Becoming Alice is reminiscent in subject and narrative voice of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Alice Rene’s autobiographical narrative skillfully captures the girl’s limited and innocent perspective as she lives through one of the most inhumane and incomprehensible moments in human history. While Isle and her family are quite fortunate to have escaped the Holocaust, finding themselves as new immigrants in the U.S. is no easy matter either. As Isle adapts to the new culture and craves acceptance and assimilation, she becomes increasingly critical of her family dynamics: particularly of the interaction between her overbearing father and submissive–yet also, in some respects, incredibly strong and resilient–mother.
By the end of the narrative, when she’s already in her teens, Isle succeeds in Americanizing not only her name–which she changes to Alice–but also her whole identity and outlook. She doesn’t forget, however, her original culture, nor the historical calamity that brought her family to the U.S. This is a riveting story : a memoir that reads like a novel about a moment in history that we should never forget.
Claudia Moscovici, Literaturesalon