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Quest for Family

  • Jan 27, 2012
As a young teenager Maria Sutton nee Venckus overhears a conversation between her mother Julia and a lifelong friend who had shared the experience of being a displaced person in the German camps during and after World War II. Imagine Maria's surprise and shock when she realizes that the man she had thought of, as her father is not related to her in the true biological sense. A tall blonde mystery man named Jozef Kurek was responsible for her attractive blonde looks and charismatic manner. Visions of a loving reunion and the anticipated joy of relating through simple genetic commonalities fill her head and urge her onward for over fifty years from that day in 1961 to search for her biological past.

In "The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back," lovingly and factually Maria tells her tale of investigative persistence that grips the reader with the desire to know the outcome with a page-turning intensity that sheds light on the ghosts and shadows of the past.

As an Italian-American whose grandparents immigrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century, this reviewer understands the necessity of these brave newcomers to the American world to forget the past and start anew. When asked about her experience on Ellis Island, my grandmother would barely sketch an answer. Whatever hardships she endured--the loss of her familiar surroundings, the inability to understand the language, the need to adapt to an urban environment--she handled as a true American--she noncommittally pleaded the Fifth Amendment. The post-traumatic stress of her personal diaspora remained her own cross to bear, something she would never disclose because it would have reestablished the yoke of the past and hindered the growth of her children and her children's children. However, the sense of legacy and the knowledge of generations of family planted in a particular place or in a traditional homeland are lost to those born in America. Inundated with the transcendental chore of assimilation into a way of life so different from that of their ancestors, those newer Americans did not have the time or inclination to consider the past until a degree of settling and establishment came into being. For Maria Sutton, her family's history would unlock secrets that would forever quiet murmurs of uncertainty that still haunted her aging mother and give them both solid identities forged in strength, sorrow and perseverance.

Peppered liberally with photos taken during the many travelogue-type legs of the journey beginning in Denver and traversing the Atlantic to the Ukraine, Germany, Poland and Russia with some dead ends thrown in to tautly stretch the frustration factor (Sutton's husband Keith definitely wins the award for Most Supportive Spouse), "The Night Sky" compels the reader with its straightforward desire to find out the truth and its universal appeal to ground one's identity with a sense of unconditional belonging. Sutton's candid prose and almost naked sophomoric yearning testifies to her heartfelt need to discover the truth no matter how devastating the effect on her imaginings.

Maria's dreams of reuniting with her dashingly handsome father may not come true in quite the way she initially expects. Nonetheless, her desires her realized and reaffirmed as a quintessential example of the American Dream come true. Her loving family on both sides of the Atlantic never let her down. Her photo albums, both actual and mental, are filled with the devotion of loving intention and hopefully spangled with the quest for a better life as epitomized by the vastness of her night sky of twinkling stars that she imagines both she and her father will one day look upon together.

Bottom line? "The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back" remarkably recounts one woman's quest for family identity within the great and oftentimes confusing melting pot of America. Written in a simple back and forth chronology--author Maria Sutton tells of a past event and relates how she confronts and confirms this in the near present through her investigative endeavors--the book details the hardships endured by her Ukrainian mother as a displaced forced worker during World War II as she is separated from her mother and brother, finds a new life in Denver, Colorado and through the efforts of her daughter eventually makes peace with the past. A compelling and quick read that is sure to please and set any son or daughter of once-immigrant Americans to convene a family search of their own. Highly recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #167
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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Here is a book of many parts, all fascinating.
Maria Sutton wanted to have a history or sense of belonging. As a child, while attending her mother's citizenship ceremony in Denver, she is called a Dirty DP! A few years later she overhears a conversation that reveals that her father is not the kind, hardworking man to whom her mother is married, but a complete stranger named Jozef Kurek. Thus begins her 40-some year search for family, a quest begun with romantic naiveté which falters but never fails despite the hard truths she encounters.

Through heartwarming family reunions and heartbreaking family revelations, with the aid of a retired Russian KGB agent, Polish genealogists, Ukrainian translators, Dachau archives, a half dozen flights to far away lands and, eventually, with the blessings of Google, email and the generous support of those she meets along the way, Maria Sutton pursues and finds family. (In deed, the reader would not be surprised to find his own long lost Aunt Maud appearing on the next page.)

And Maria Sutton has an extraordinary family to find, if only for the reason that they have survived (or not survived) one of the worst periods of Eastern European history. Just as in Timothy Snyder's highly praised history Bloodlands, Maria's search illuminates the enormity of the atrocities suffered by Ukrainians and Poles under both Stalin and Hitler. Whether it is worse to be sent to Siberia or Germany as slave laborer or to have one's head cut off and mounted...
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ISBN-10: 1555664466
ISBN-13: 978-1555664466
Publisher: Johnson Books

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