Barbara Steingas wants us to know that her relatives were and are a pretty entertaining bunch, going against the stereotype of the humorless German.
And there are a few funny stories in her book. There’s a scene, for example, in which Steingas’ mother comes into her bedroom for the mother-daughter birds-and-the-bees talk. Moved to tears during the discussion, her mother reaches for a tissue, only to find a marijuana roach in the tissue box.
But such stories are rare, and although a reader may crack an occasional smile, no knees will be slapped or sides split over the course of this book. Most of Steingas’ book involves typical renditions of family history. Although not funny, they are interesting. Her great-grandparents survived World War I and the hardships that followed in Germany. Her grandfather, a professional opera singer, spoke out against the Nazis in the late ’30s and was imprisoned. Her grandmother, nearing her 94th birthday and fearful of losing her independence as her health began to fail, chose to take her own life.
In telling these stories, the author has a tendency to wander far afield. A passage about her mother’s job at Georgetown University Hospital’s gift shop details hospital visits by John F. Kennedy Jr. and Bill Clinton, then meanders into an account of a childhood search for a certain type of shoes. Some long stories lead nowhere, and there are numerous accounts of her visits to Germany that read more like travelogues.
In the epilogue, Steingas tells us that “writing this collection of stories has allowed me to feel closer to my relatives with whom I shared only brief periods of time. . . . Also, it keeps their memories alive…”
That may be what readers take most from this book. Stories of family don’t have to be funny to find a place in our hearts.
Also available as an ebook.