The following book review was written by Bobbi King:
Claire Gebben remembers her grandmother’s steadfast practice of writing letters back to her family still living in the old country, in the Freinsheim region of Germany. With her grandmother’s passing, Ms. Gebben’s parents continued the tradition. Now a third-generation letter-writer, Ms. Gebben took up emailing her German cousin, Angela Weber, whose strong interest in the family complemented that of Ms. Gebben’s.
Eventually, Ms. Weber made the trip from Germany to the United States to meet her American cousin, bringing with her a treasure: a stack of old family letters that had lain tucked away in a German family attic. The two opened and pored over the letters, now benefiting with Ms. Weber’s keen translational skill. As the events, locations, and happenings of their ancestors’ lives came apparent, Ms. Gebben was moved to memorialize their fates using the letters as markers for the episodes of their days.
Ms. Gebben chronicles the loving encouragement and influence of her Aunt Elizabeth, one of several profiled members of the family. The passing of Ms. Gebben’s father as recounted in the narrative lent urgency to Ms. Gebben’s searches. She made the pilgrimage to Germany to build upon her research, and she recites the details of her visits to museums, family, and repositories as she moved to complete her studies and begin her writing.
At the same time as Ms. Gebben was exploring and discovering her family, she was preparing her thesis for her MFA in Creative Writing covering the life of her great-great-grandfather who owned a carriage works business in Cleveland in the 19th century. She explains how she dove-tailed her thesis work with her family history work.
Essentially, Ms. Gebben’s book is her personal journey of discovery, offering comprehensive details of her slip-ups, her breakthroughs, her unexpected findings, and the realization that across the generations and vast distances, the commonality of family experiences can bridge the divides and reconnect the broken bonds.
We congratulate Ms. Gebben on the twin accomplishments of the completion of How We Survive Here and achievement of her MFA.