“This is the book I needed to write,” says Adam Frankel who worked as President Barack Obama’s Special Assistant and Senior Speechwriter.
But Frankel’s book isn’t about those heady days in the White House. Instead, the story he tells in his recently released book, The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing, about identity, family trauma and how in family those who came before us impact our own lives. It begins with his maternal grandparents, both Holocaust survivors who ultimately were able to make it to the United States and settled in Connecticut. But their trauma during those years didn’t end with the freedom and safety they found in New Haven. It echoed through the generations first to their daughter, who suffered from depression and was prone to violent outbursts and then to Frankel himself. But there was more trauma to come for Frankel.
“Shortly before joining the Obama campaign in 2007 I learned that my father was not my dad, a secret my mother had kept from us,” says Frankel, now the vice president of External Affairs at Andela. “In order to wrap my head around it, I had to go back in the past to my grandparents and my mom who had mental health issues.”
When he was writing The Survivors, Frankel says many of his relatives lobbied him to abandon the project. Besides pushback from family, he also had to deal with his own feelings.
“This was a very difficult book to write,” says Frankel, noting that he often had to take hours and sometimes days to step away before he could go back to exploring his family’s story. “Only by writing about it could I process it.”
Frankel, a graduate of Princeton University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he was a Fulbright Scholar, describes putting his thoughts on paper as a form of expressive writing where one receives physical benefits when writing about thoughts and issues that are weighing them down.
“My goals in writing were to be as honest as I could and also to tell the story honestly about how World War II reverberated within my family,” he says. “All families have trauma somewhere and there’s nothing disrespectful about being open and acknowledging that. That’s the way we heal.”
What: Adam Frankel talk and book signing
When: Tuesday, November 19, 7 to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook, IL
FYI: 224-406-9257; jccchicago.org