It is widely understood that our grandparents are almost fountains of wisdom, full of the knowledge learned over a lifetime, that they then pass down to future familial generations. Bess Kalb’s grandmother, Bobby, is one excellent proof of this. Bobby’s mother, Rose, escaped Belarusan progroms, leading to the family’s installation in the United States. Bobby started her life in impoverished Greenpoint, New York, as the second generation of a family of strong-willed and incredible women. When Bobby died, Bess wrote the funeral’s eulogy, inspired by her close relationship with her and a series of voicemails she had received from her late and beloved grandmother. From that, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me was born.
image via shorefire
Taking inspiration, and direct quotation, from voicemails, emails, and conversations with her grandmother, Bess tells Bobby’s story, and in doing so gives her her voice. In an act of beautiful literary ventriloquism, Bobby’s indomitable spirit, strength, and New York glamour shine through the pages. The memoir reads like a letter to Bess herself, as Bobby talks the reader through their family’s story, their Jewish heritage, and her ancestor’s experiences in Belarus. The book pulsates with love and connection, as the relationship shared between grandmother and granddaughter is made beautifully palpable. Bobby’s wit and charm talk Bess through pivotal moments in her own life, referencing that of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
From marching for civil rights, to staying away from fake purses, Bobby’s wisdom and advice is not only implied by the voice Bess gives her, but presented verbatim in the transcripts of phone calls and dining table conversations. I won’t give any away, since they are truly a joy to read, but Bess’ grandmother comes across as a distinguished, wonderfully stubborn, and caring woman. Bobby clearly loved Bess dearly, and wanted the best for her in her education, her family life, and even her chosen state – a proud New Yorker, Bess’ apparent desertion to the West Coast is a recurring theme and amusing thorn in Bobby’s side. Her sharp humor seeps into every wonderful anecdote and excerpt, as ‘she’ tells the story of her upbringing in Brooklyn, her time at college, her life with her husband, her best friend’s unnerving marriage, and all with a familiarity that even the reader can feel.
image via nytimes
The book is not only a memoir of a spectacular woman, but also a time capsule for a family with an interesting and at times perilous past. From the pogroms in Belarus, then part of Russia, to Bobby’s mother’s journey to New York and its promised American Dream, the book encapsulates the lives of a family with strong cultural heritage and customs. The pride Bobby feels for her family, and the brothers, sisters, ancestors, parents, children that have predated, surrounded, or lived beyond her, is in the way she speaks of each and every one of them. Bobby’s mother, the strong-willed woman who gave birth to her children on the kitchen table so as not to spoil the bed linen, is just one of the stars of Bobby’s show, a show that Bess has directed for her posthumously, and wonderfully.
It is a book that will make you want to speak to your own grandmother right away, should she be alive, or listen back to messages she left you, should she have passed. Our grandparents have a wealth of knowledge and life experience, that can help guide us through life. The memory of Bobby is immortalised in all of it’s heartwarming, heartbreaking, laughter and tear-inducing glory in Kalb’s book, and it is an honor to have an insight so truthful and warm into an incredible woman’s life.
You can get a copy of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me anywhere books are sold, and you won’t regret it when you do.
feature image via shorefire and amazon