The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates..........
The Gravedigger's Daughter is a story about the human condition. It is centered around the Schwart family, who flee the horrors of Nazi Germany, and immigrate to a small town in upstate New York. It is a tale of loss dreams, disgrace and humiliation, disillusionment, paranoia, deceit, and prejudice. It is also a story about survival. Survival at any cost..........
Jacob Schwart, a highly respected school teacher, printer's assistant, and soccer coach moves his family from their uncertain home in Germany to upstate New York, where the only work he can find is that of a Gravedigger and cemetery grounds keeper. He learns the family can reside on the premises, in a stone cottage, rent free, for which he is grateful at the time. Jacob and his wife Anna have two son's, Herschel, and August. Their daughter Rebecca is born as the ship docks in the States.
The family is unable to acclimate and thrive in their new environment. At first Jacob thinks if he works hard enough he will gain recognition and respect in this new country. He thinks he might be able to carve out a future for himself, and his family, if he works rigorously and diligently, but he soon comes to realize it isn't possible. He tells his family, "In animal life the weak are quickly disposed of." He tells his daughter, "You. You are born here. They will not hurt you." As Jacob realizes the position he is in he becomes increasingly angry and depressed. He begins to take out his frustration on his family. He becomes emotionally and physically abusive at times. Anna, who is isolated in the stone cottage, in a new country, without friends, becomes paranoid and despondent. She believes seepage from the graves is getting into the water supply and poisoning them.
In the mist of all of this despair the Schwarts receive news that family is coming to stay with them. There is an unusual excitement in the air as they all pull together to fix the cottage up for their guests. They wait....but no one arrives.... They learn the ship has been turned away..... All of the people on the ship were sent to concentration camps and are now presumed dead..... The shock is to much. The emotional decline continues and conditions become intolerable. The two son's eventually run away. Then a tragedy occurs and Rebecca finds herself basically on her own.
The rest of the story, then becomes about Rebecca, how she claws out a life for herself, and eventually her son. In the beginning Rebecca runs from her life creating new identities for herself and her son. In the end she comes to realize, although she continues to keep secrets, that she is who she is because of her past.
The Grave Digger's Daughter is a riveting and compelling story. As with most of her books, Oates is able to captivate her readers right from the very beginning until the very end. It is a story filled with twists, turns, and one surprise after another. I enjoyed this book although it was sad at times. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in a good read.