Riva’s Journey: a Memoir

Exit visa from Poland, 1921–Bennie, Meyer, & Riva

I’ve been researching and writing the fictionalized memoir of my Grandmother Riva’s life since the beginning of this crazy year. Since I have scant documentation, there are enormous gaps in my knowledge, so I’ve resorted to extensively researching the history of the times and places she knew as a girl and young woman. While I can’t know many of the details of her actual experiences, at least I’m now able to put what I do know into an accurate context.

This experience is endlessly fascinating for me, especially since I’m old enough now to have a broader perspective on history and life than I would have had as a young woman. I’m telling myself the story I wish she could have told me when she had the chance, if only life and language barriers hadn’t intervened. I’m hoping the end result will be something my own adult grandchildren will be able to appreciate as the story of where they, themselves, began.

On the most basic level, my grandparents always said they came from Russia, but when I looked at a map, the towns they were born in are in present-day Ukraine. However, delving into the history of the area, I discovered that this was known as the Pale of Jewish Settlement, originally part of the Kingdom of Poland, which was partitioned by the great powers of the late eighteenth century between the Prussian (or German) Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Suddenly, previously inexplicable aspects of my grandmother’s life, such as her education in an Austrian gymnazia, began to make sense. My grandmother lived in at least three different countries before she left home to come to America, even though she never moved from the Tarnopol Oblast! The borders of those countries remained in nearly constant flux for well over a hundred years.

So with this, my latest book, I’m on a journey of my own, only now, it’s personal. I know how the story ends, but it’s the in-between parts that are making this a journey of discovery for me. It’s challenging but it’s also an exciting adventure. I’m just going along for the ride!

Americans, mixed media on paper (Barbara Lipkin)

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