Rating: 4 of 5
Author: Alice Rene
The daughter of a successful Austrian physician, young Ilse had a privileged life. That changed the day the Nazi’s marched down her street in Vienna. Suddenly, the family housekeeper could not longer come to their home and her father could no longer see patients. Having no income, her family sold their possessions on the black market to survive. Fearing for their lives, they fled Austria and embarked on a harrowing journey to America staying one step ahead of the Germans.
Set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most tragic events, Alice Rene’s Becoming Alice is a different type of coming of age Memoir. The impact of Hitler’s advance throughout Europe profoundly impacted so many and Rene’s family was no different. Rene’s father struggles to make piece with the fact his once prominent position as a physician is gone and he must try to make ends meet as a grocer. Her mother, intelligent and resourceful, cares little about position and pragmatically seeks for ways to help the family survive almost in secret in fear that her husband will hold her in contempt. Rene’s older brother is forever seeking success in life and in love. All the while, little Ilse is out of sorts trying to placate all family members while finding her own way as a poor immigrant looking to fit in just like any other young girl.
Through all of these experiences, Ilse eventually finds her way. What type of person does she want to be? Who will she depend on? Who will she be friends with? Who will she love? Ilse becomes Alice.
One can not help but wonder what life would have been like for the Rene’s family had world events not had transpired as they did. Her father would likely to have continued as a successful physician and Alice’s coming of age would have been much different as the daughter of such a prominent family. Rene ends Becoming Alice with a few very satisfying comments on the eventual paths life has taken for many of the people featured in her Memoir.
Though her experiences are extraordinary, Rene’s Memoir causes a great deal of self reflection on the readers part forcing all of us to appreciate how our own experiences have so profoundly shaped our lives.