SHANDA: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy

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An intimate memoir from a founding editor of Ms. magazine who grew up in a Jewish immigrant family mired in secrets, haunted by their dread of shame and stigma, determined to hide their every imperfection—and in denial or despair when they couldn’t.  

“The richness of Pogrebin’s stories, the complexity and beauty of her storytelling, and her devastatingly honest soul-baring make Shanda a powerfully stunning piece of life and art.”

—Mayim Bialik, actor, author, neuroscientist, and co-host of Jeopardy

The word “shanda” is defined as shame or disgrace in Yiddish. This book, Shanda, tells the story of three generations of complicated, intense 20th-century Jews for whom the desire to fit in and the fear of public humiliation either drove their aspirations or crushed their spirit.

In her deeply engaging, astonishingly candid memoir, author and activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin exposes the fiercely-guarded lies and intricate cover-ups woven by dozens of members of her extended family. Beginning with her own long-suppressed secret, the story spirals through the hidden lives of her parents and relatives—revealing the truth about their origins, personal traumas, marital misery, abandoned children, religious transgressions, sexual identity, radical politics, and supposedly embarrassing illnesses. While unmasking their charades and disguises, Pogrebin also showcases her family’s remarkable talent for reinvention in a narrative that is, by turns, touching, searing, and surprisingly universal.