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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Felice's Worlds" by Henry Massie~An Interview



"Henry Massie never blinks as he creates an astonishing chronicle of a life in diaspora. Only a son could capture this passionate spirit, who escaped both Adolf Hitler and Joe McCarthy." --Patty Friedmann, author of TOO JEWISH

From the author:

I had listened to my mother’s tales all my life and wanted to share them. She was an escapee from a Polish shtetl wiped out by the Nazis, a high-school political activist in Lithuania, a university student in France who lost her first love tragically, a partisan for Arab-Jewish co-existence in Palestine who was caught in the first intifada in 1936, and a penniless arrival to America in 1937.

Yet when she died she had amassed one of the most important collections of Modern Art in the world and was a university lecturer on the subject.

In writing about her, I understood for the first time how her experience of losing loved ones to the Nazis had been passed on to her American son.

But as a psychiatrist, I was drawn to Felice’s story because it shows so much resilience in the face of terrible emotional trauma. Her life dramatizes how just keeping on through days of having nothing but a belief that "someday I will have something," can be a powerful survival tool.
– Henry Massie

From the publisher:

One of Felice’s friends called her “the quintessential perfect modern woman.” I call her a role model. We should all be so inventive, so quick, so brilliant and mesmerizing. When I got to the part of the narrative where she immigrates to America, I held my breath, afraid the exciting part was over. But I just didn’t know Felice. I ended up fascinated to the end, riveted by Felice’s ability to be herself, to make her mark no matter where she was.
-- Julie Smith

Find a copy here : Amazon
"Felice's Worlds" is written in ebook format only

Jessica Magill is happy to sponsor an interview with Dr. Henry Massie about his book :

Dr. Massie, I'm wondering what it was that inspired you to write the biography of your mother in particular.  Could you share that insight with our readers?


My mother entertained me with her adventures from the time I was a small child.  She was a great story teller and I had a very dramatic vision of her and her life and times.  As I grew older I wanted to share her stories with others.  Sometimes she would tell an episode around our family dinner table.  Sometimes she would launch into an adventure when we were with guests.  At times she shared them with me alone, especially as she grew older after my father passed away.


There were many different parts and periods to her life, and her stories revealed her as a  bold, colorful, impulsive, brilliant woman who knew how to seize a moment and make it hers.  The experiences she recounted brought to life bygone eras better than any history book, more completely than any movie.


For example, I learned about life in the poor farming village of her girlhood in Poland near the Russian border.  I learned what it was like to be singled out as "the pretty one, sprightly, special little girl whose father, the mayor, sent her away to get an education."   She became the first girl from her village to go to university.  I learned how she came of age in the 1930s and used the ruse of a false marriage to escape from the Nazis and enter Palestine.  There she received the death threats from both Jews and Arabs because she treated everybody equally.  Bitterly disappointment by the violence there, America beckoned her.  I saw her descending the gangplank at Ellis Island in 1937, a young,  penniless  woman with a mission to send back money to rescue her family.  She placed an  ad offering child-care in the New Haven, Connecticut newspaper.  Within days she moved into the home of the President of Yale University to be his daughter's governess and French and Latin tutor.  This was her first work in America; her last work was as a philanthropist.  In between she gathered one of the foremost collections of American Abstract Expressionist Art anywhere.  Toward the end of her life she told me the tragedy of the death of her first love when she was a student in France, which she had kept secret.


I was born in St. Louis, Missouri the day the Nazis marched into her little village and decimated the townspeople.  Thus another reason I wrote FELICE'S WORLDS was to recount how the trauma of the Holocaust imprinted itself on her and how she passed this emotional trauma on to the next generation.  I knew how her losses affected my mother because I heard her nightmares and her pacing at night.  However only as I wrote her memoir, often in her very words, did I understand for the first time how I too had been affected by her experiences.  The writing also became my memoir, and the insights about the psychological trauma of war as well as her resilience seemed important to share with others.

 Thank you, Dr. Massie.  Felice was a fascinating woman, and I'm sure she was a captivating mother!
Jessica' Review in a Nutshell :
I've read books about the Holocaust since I was in grade school and  had to read "The Diary of Anne Frank" as a class assignment.  The people and the horrors of the time have always plagued me since I was a child.  Reading "Felice's Worlds" gave me another perspective on the War and helped me put a young woman in the place of a certain power instead of the place of a victim this time.  Felice was so strong, I felt like she wasn't a victim in the War, but she lived each moment in such a way as to overcome her adversities.  She was the woman we all hope we could be in such dire circumstances.
I loved Felice and reading about her life and times.  As a professional woman who had to lay down her tools of trade for the tools of a subservient nature she triumphed in her good will toward others.  In her willingness to provide a means to give to others from her meager monies and food, she was a philanthropist.  In her attitudes throughout her life toward those who were of the working class, she was a kind and thoughtful supporter.  And in her sharing of her extensive knowledge of art and architecture throughout her life, she was a luminary.
An extraordinary woman in extraordinary times.  I loved this biography of Felice, and I celebrate her very special life with her son and the others who knew her.
5 stars       Jessica Magill




Felice's biography looks so inspirational, powerful, and gripping. Thanks for the review, Deb.

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