978-0-375-42101-3 / 9780375421013

The Leopard Hat: A Daughter's Story





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About the book:

Valerie Steiker's poignant memoir limns with love the indelible impact of her glamorous, adored mother, Gisèle, and her painful struggle to come to terms with Gisèle's premature death from cancer in 1988, when Valerie was only 20. The book's marvelous opening pages portray a beautiful, privileged woman who can't do her own hair and throws the entire household into disarray when dressing to go out with her husband. Swathed in gowns, bedecked in jewels, and always shod in high heels (even on her canvas boat shoes), Gisèle is the epitome of a wealthy, sophisticated New Yorker. She's also a Belgian-born Jew who spent the war years in hiding with her mother after her father was deported to Auschwitz; the magical cocoon Gisèle spins for her daughters in their East Side apartment is a creation of her will and imagination, her passionate desire to give them the childhood she was denied. Steiker's luminous prose, vividly evoking Gisèle's allure, makes palpable the void left by her loss. Only at the end of a five-year romance launched just weeks after Gisèle's death does the author realize, "I had been desperately trying to hold on to my mother ... at the expense of my growing more fully into myself." The chapters about Valerie's postcollege years as a young writer and editor in Manhattan, though well-written and intelligent, aren't quite as compelling as the ones that tenderly chronicle her mother's life. This is Gisèle's book, and it's clear her daughter wouldn't have wanted it any other way. --Wendy Smith

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