Tattoo for a Slave by Hortense Calisher

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A "tattoo" is a bugle call, a summoning that lingers in the ear. Although Hortense Calisher's family eventually migrated north to New York City, the echoes of their days as a slave-owning Jewish family in the South still resonate with this acclaimed author, who uncovers a part of history never before so strongly and tenderly revealed.

Calisher traces her family's years in the South and their transformative move up north, beautifully evoking the mood and texture of the early twentieth century. Her family was an eccentric combination of Jewish and Southern traditions and tragedies. Her Virginia-born father, a perfume manufacturer, was twenty-two years older than her German-born mother. Marked by longer-than-normal gaps between the generations and conflicts between the mercantile and the scholarly, the "American" and the émigré, her family is characterized by Calisher as "volcanic to meditative to fruitfully dull, and bound to produce someone interested in character, society, and time."


About Hortense Calisher

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Hortense Calisher is past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and PEN. Three-time finalist for the National Book Award, she is the author of many novels and short stories. She lives in New York City.
Published November 1, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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For on nearly every page of this journey is a sentence you wish you’d written (e.g., “But humility is a prism, all of whose sides a child is not yet equipped to see”).

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Publishers Weekly

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While Calisher devotees will certainly be eager for this latest version of her memoirs, first-timers may find themselves somewhat lost.

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Entertainment Weekly

''Forgive me, if nearing life's end, I see a drama with a tinge, modest, all but ignorable, of the Shakespearean...'' writes Hortense Calisher with characteristically swooping sentence structure as she muses on the discovery that her Southern Jewish forebears may have owned slaves.

Oct 29 2004 | Read Full Review of Tattoo for a Slave

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