Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for So Far Away
Christine W. Hartman is the daughter of German immigrants, Hans and Irmgard, both of whom were highly intelligent, pragmatic, and products of their upbringings. When her parents divorced, it was Irmgard who left the family home, leaving Christine and her brother to live with their father, a highly unusual circumstance in the 1970’s. Although Irmgard settled nearby and Christine continued to see her regularly and have a loving relationship with her mother, the combination of her mother’s physical distance and her father’s emotional one left feeling abandoned.
Christine’s distress was furthered when her mother announced, twenty years in advance, that she did not plan to live past the age of seventy. Rather, Irmgard shared with her daughter her determination not to be allow herself to become frail or diminished and, therefore, a burden to her children. When Christine probed, Irmgard dismissed her concerns by telling her that her date with death was “so far away.”
Hans, meanwhile, was determined to remain independent in his own home for as long as possible, rebuffing Christine’s suggestions that he make arrangements to move into a transitional living environment. In contrast to Irmgard, Hans viewed the time when he would need assistance with daily living as “so far away.”
A failed first marriage illustrated Christine’s own emotional vulnerabilities — she craved attachment, acceptance, and security. But when she was forced to deal with each of her parents’ demise, she gained additional insight into her own issues.
So Far Away is one of those rare books that evokes such strong emotions it becomes quite difficult to review objectively and fairly. The reason is the subject matter. Despite the fact that first-time author Christine Hartman relates her experiences in a straight-forward but eloquent manner, So Far Away made me so infuriated and disturbed by the content that I could only read it in small segments. I found it necessary to put the book down, walk away, and distract myself with other matters before summoning the strength to resume reading.
At the core of Christine’s story is Irmgard, her stoic, domineering, unwielding mother. Irmgard emigrated to the United States from Germany. I suspect she was frustrated by her lack of career advancement and accomplishment, and unfulfilled as a wife and mother, leading her to make the atypical choice to leave her children with their father in the family residence, rather than remain there with them as the primary custodial parent. Because Hans was unequipped to meet his young children’s needs, Christine and her brother were left emotionally bereft.
Matters worsened when they were subjected to some of the most heinous emotional abuse imaginable. Determined to control every detail about her life, including the date, time, location, and manner of her own death, Irmgard scheduled her own suicide twenty years in advance and heartlessly shared that fact with her children, creating a macabre countdown that intensified as the years passed. Because Christine naturally craved information about her mother’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, she describes how she became obsessed with her mother’s plan, all the while disbelieving that Irmgard would actually follow through. As the clock ticked, Irmgard effectively made Christine her co-conspirator as they inventoried and purged her belongings, Irmgard revealed where and when she would take her own life, as well as how Christine would receive notice, and the two women even planned how they would spend their last day together. That a mother would engage in such unspeakable cruelty with no regard for the devastating consequences of her behavior makes So Far Away simultaneously fascinating and repulsive.
Equally disturbing is Christine’s recitation of the manner in which she dealt with her mother’s impending demise. Her father and brother were also aware of her mother’s plans. Christine steadfastly maintains that Irmgard was not depressed, yet she offers no competent evidence supporting her conclusion, aside from her observations of her mother’s outward demeanor. It appears that none of Irmgard’s family members arranged for her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Rather, they tacitly acquiesced in her decision to end her life. Christine, in particular, appears to have been so traumatized by that time that she virtually slept-walked through the event, not even comprehending — until a dear friend finally found the courage to confront her — what a deeply disturbed monster her mother truly was and how desperate Irmgard was for attention that she subjected her own daughter to such heinous emotional abuse.
Shortly after Irmgard’s death, Christine’s father suffered a stroke which rendered him incapable of living on his own. Christine poignantly details the tender ways she and Hans related to each other during his last couple of years as he, in stark contrast to her mother, fought to maintain his dignity and individuality even as the effects of the initial and subsequent strokes overtook him. Ultimately, Christine was required to make the kind of medical decisions about her father’s care and fate that many of us Baby Boomers have already faced with our own parents, invoking empathy and our own memories as she explains how she lovingly let her father complete his own journey. She powerfully illustrates how her parents, who were actually so much alike in significant ways, required drastically different types of closure in order to be at peace with their own deaths.
So Far Away abruptly ends without fully detailing Christine’s own journey to recovery, leaving readers to wonder if she has, in fact, healed. Although she explains many of the things she learned about her own relationships with others, she does not reveal the deepest and most intimate aspects of her own search for peace. In particular, it would be interesting to know how Christine finally faced the reality of her mother’s cruelty, assuming that she has. One of two things is true: She has either forgiven her mother for her shortcomings or remains in denial about her mother’s abuse, as evidenced by the portrait of a loving, but stalwart mother that she paints in So Far Away. For many readers, particularly those who are parents themselves, that will prove to be the most troubling aspect of Christine’s story.
Sure to inspire spirited discussions, So Far Away would make an excellent selection for any book club whose members are willing to tackle the subject matter.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of So Far Away free of charge from the authors in conjunction with TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of So Far Away
Author Christine Hartman has graciously provided one copy of So Far Away to be awarded to a lucky Colloquium reader!
Post a comment in which you answer this question: Why do you want to read So Far Away? Then submit your entry utilizing the Rafflecopter widget.
Bonus entries also available (see below).
Entries will be accepted until Thursday, December 15, 2011, at 12:01 a.m.