Wednesday, February 4, 2015

American Ghost:The True Story of a Family's Haunted Past


Today's Nonfiction post is on American Ghost:The True Story of a Family's Haunted Past by Hannah Nordhaus. It is 336 pages long and is published by HarperCollins. The cover has the corner of a room with white window drape fluttering in the wind. There is some mild language, no sex, and talk of violence in this book. The intended reader is adult, someone interested in Jewish American history, ghost stories, or just history in general. The story told in both first person and third; first person by the author as she talks about her travels to uncover her family's history and third person when talking about the history itself. There are first hand journals, newspaper articles, and other first hand sources for added depth. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- The dark-eyed woman in the long black gown was first seen in the 1970s, standing near a fireplace. She was sad and translucent, present and absent at once. Strange things began to happen in the Santa Fe hotel where she was seen. Gas fireplaces turned off and on without anyone touching a switch. Vases of flowers appeared in new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves. And in one second-floor suite with a canopy bed and arched windows looking out to the mountains, guests reported alarming event: blankets ripped off while they slept, the room temperature plummeting, disembodied breathing, dancing balls of light.
La Posada- “place of rest”- had been a grand Santa Fe home before it was converted to a hotel. The room with the canopy bed had belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, the wife of the home's original owner. She died in 1896, nearly a century before the hauntings were first reported. In American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus traces the life, death, and unsettled afterlife of her great-great-grandmother Julia, from her childhood in Germany to her years in the American West with her Jewish merchant husband.
American Ghost is a story of pioneer women and immigrants, ghost hunters and psychics, frontier fortitude and mental illness, imagination and lore. As she traces the strands of Julia's life, Nordhaus uncovers a larger tale of how a true-life story becomes a ghost story- and how difficult it can sometimes be separate history and myth.

Review- Wonderful and interesting book about a family history, a woman's life, and a ghost story. Nordhaus writes this beautiful and sad tale of her great-great-grandmother with compassion and an eye for truth. She wants and does not want to contact her spirit. Nordhaus wants Julia to have moved on, so to speak, but she wants to know more about the woman who inspired the ghost story. Nordhaus does so much background work to this book. She travels to Germany to see where Julia grew up, she speaks with many different psychics about her, she reads her great-grandmother's dairy to try and understand their daily lives. In the end Nordhaus does learn a lot about her family but Julia is very difficult to find. But that does not ruin the book. It makes it more true to life, I think. In the real world people are very hard to understand, so I can only imagine trying to understand someone who has been dead for over 100 years and left behind no personal documents. A very good book.

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I was given a copy of this book by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.