Unearthed by Meryl Frank
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A Lost Actress, a Forbidden Book, and a Search for Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust
A thrilling mystery woven into a beautifully constructed family memoir: Meryl Frank’s journey to seek the truth about a beloved and revolutionary cousin, a celebrated actress in Vilna before World War II, and to answer the question of how the next generation should honor the memory of the Holocaust.
As a child, Meryl Frank was the chosen inheritor of family remembrance. Her aunt Mollie, a formidable and cultured woman, insisted that Meryl never forget who they were, where they came from, and the hate that nearly destroyed them. Over long afternoons, Mollie told her about the city, the theater, and, above all else, Meryl’s cousin, the radiant Franya Winter. Franya was the leading light of Vilna’s Yiddish theater, a remarkable and precocious woman who cast off the restrictions of her Hasidic family and community to play roles as prostitutes and bellhops, lovers and nuns. Yet there was one thing her aunt Mollie would never tell Meryl: how Franya died. Before Mollie passed away, she gave Meryl a Yiddish book containing the terrible answer, but forbade her to read it. And for years, Meryl obeyed.
Unearthed is the story of Meryl’s search for Franya and a timely history of hatred and resistance. Through archives across four continents, by way of chance encounters and miraculous discoveries, and eventually, guided by the shocking truth recorded in the pages of the forbidden book, Meryl conjures the rogue spirit of her cousin—her beauty and her tragedy. Meryl’s search reveals a lost world destroyed by hatred, illuminating the cultural haven of Vilna and its resistance during World War II. As she seeks to find her lost family legacy, Meryl looks for answers to the questions that have defined her life: what is our duty to the past? How do we honor such memories while keeping them from consuming us? And what do we teach our children about tragedy?
Year first published: 2023