After Julie Metz’s mother died in 2006, she mused, “I wish like hell I’d asked my mother more questions.” That’s a common regret of newly bereaved daughters, but this one had special urgency: Metz had just discovered “a vault of secrets” tucked away in her mother’s lingerie drawer. A small keepsake book contained childhood notes and souvenirs from Vienna, the Austrian city from which Metz’s mother, Eva, and grandparents were forced to flee in 1940. Their Jewish family had been wrenched apart two years earlier when Eva’s two older brothers were sent to London because a neighbor’s son, who had joined the Hitler Youth, had begun targeting them. By 1940, London was no longer an option for the rest of the family, so they headed to the United States. Once there, 12-year-old Eva changed her name to Eve and grew up to become a “steely, savvy” New Yorker, as well as a successful art director at Simon & Schuster.
Metz had known about this tragic saga from a young age, but her hunt for additional details after her mother’s death turned into an obsession that “felt like a séance, a conversation she and I never had when she was alive. A collaboration with a ghost.” The result is her intriguing memoir, Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind.
The author is no stranger to digging into the past. Metz’s 2009 memoir, Perfection, reexamined her marriage after she discovered that her recently deceased husband had been a serial adulterer. In Eva and Eve, her research leads her to Vienna, where she visits her mother’s childhood apartment and tours the factory her grandfather, Julius Singer, was forced to abandon. Singer invented an accordionlike paper used to dispense medicine that was manufactured on a “machine so complicated that the Nazis had kept Julius alive to run it.” These visits are fascinating as well as heartbreaking. As Metz retraces her mother’s journey to America, readers come to understand in a visceral, immediate way the hardships and terrors her family faced.
Metz is a dogged, careful researcher, but at times she describes imagined scenes, with mixed success. Many of these passages vividly bring her ancestors to life, but a few seem like a stretch. Still, Metz is a compelling narrator who offers thoughtful reflections on how her family’s situation parallels today’s world. “I wondered about all the other Evas, children forced to leave their countries because of war and drought, riding the Bestia train through Mexico, or waiting in refugee camps in the Mideast and Europe,” she writes. “When those who have suffered persecution feel that they belong, that their lives truly matter, we will all live more truthful lives.”