Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Sam Freedman

Since I was ten years old I have been reading biographies of famous people. I am not usually so fond of memoirs about ordinary people. Sam Freedman wrote a memoir, Who She Was: My Search For My Mother’s Life. Even though a son wrote this book about his mother, it is not written like a standard memoir, he writes it from a distance, rather than including himself in every aspect of the book.

            Sam Freedman decided to write about his mother many years after her death. He feels that time gave him a certain distance that enabled him to write more clearly about her. He was disinterested in her while she was alive because of her alcoholism. As an adult he wanted to explore her young life to discover who she really was.

            Freedman mentioned in his class visit that children often forget that their parents had lives before they had a family. Freedman uncovered his mother’s life during his research for his book, and wrote mostly about her years growing up. His book focuses on his mother’s romantic relationships as a young woman. Personally, I do not feel the need to learn about my parents’ past romantic relationships. I do not see why this is something important for a child to find out about his parents. I think it is even disrespectful, and people should think about who their parents became, not about the things they may have done in their past.

            Memoirs are often idealized versions of a person’s life. Freedman believes that, “Truth is subjective, but you can’t make things up about people. Treat them with the same rigor and high standards as you would when someone is famous.” This is an interesting approach to writing a memoir. However, I do not feel that it is respectful to the deceased person to uncover the dark secrets of his or her life.

            Freedman wrote this book to relieve his guilt and to try to understand his mother better. He says that he wrote about his mother’s sexuality because it was an important part of her life. She was angry that her cancer made her sexually unattractive. According to her son, “This was her life force, what she really cared about in life.” Freedman believed that by uncovering his mother’s sexual life he could understand a lot about her desires, personality, and interests.

            Freedman also told our class that he looked at photographs to gain an understanding of his mother’s youth. I have seen pictures of my own grandparents when they were younger, and they reveal a lot about them.

            Ultimately, by examining his mother’s life, Freedman uses it as a lesson in raising his own children. His final conclusion is that children should not be denied their deepest desires, or their lives will be unfulfilled.