The Ashes of Innocence, by Alexandra Tesluk

by Rebeca on May 7, 2010

The Ashes of Innocence
By Alexandra Tesluk
Tesluk Publications 2008
349 pages

Reviewed by Randall Radic

Written by Alexandra Tesluk, The Ashes of Innocence relates the story of a child (Alexandra), whose father vanished at the end of World War II.  Alexandra’s mother – who makes Cinderella’s stepmother look like a saint – decides that, instead of going back to the Soviet Union, where she and her family would more than likely end up in a death camp, she will take her two daughters to Canada.  Upon arriving in Canada, they are classified as DP’s (displaced persons).  Today, they would be called ‘refugees.’  Essentially, they were nobodies without any status whatsoever.  No citizenship anywhere.

Things get worse.  Alexandra’s mother marries a violent alcoholic, who gets some kind of bizarre pleasure out of abusing and torturing his stepdaughters.  Good old mom, of course, who is the textbook definition of emotional inaccessibility, looks the other way.

One thing leads to another.  After the stepfather dies, Alexandra is abandoned by her mother.  Which means more suffering and loneliness.  Eventually Alexandra marries a violent alcoholic, who uses her as a punching bag.  Alexandra bears a child, whom she gives up for adoption for obvious reasons.  And on and on it goes.

Throughout the story, Alexandra keeps searching for the father she never knew.  This quest brings focus to her life.  In the end, Alexandra goes in a different direction.  She “gets a life.”  Just like in a fairy tale, she marries a prince, becomes successful in business, and reunites with her daughter.

She never does find her father.  However, she does hook up with relatives in Poland, which is where the book ends.

The story is told in a unique way and in Alexandra’s unique voice.  Which is to say Alexandra is not a professional author.  Which means the style is somewhat dicey at times.  Yet it is this very Ronco Chop-O-Matic style that gives the book its charm, the charm of a real story as told by a real person.  This realness allows Alexandra’s personality to seep out as she conveys her story.  Which means that when the reader finishes reading the book, he feels as if he knows her.  And this accretion of knowing – as the story progresses – allows the reader to identify with Alexandra, the protagonist.  Which means the reader finds himself rooting for her.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

On the old Read-O-Meter, which ranges from 1 star (pathetic) to 5 stars (outstanding), The Ashes of Innocence rates 5 stars for readability, and 4 stars for style.  Which means 4 and a half stars.

And that ain’t too shabby.

[1] For a fact, most of the best memoirs seem to be penned by women.  Probably because men are too worried about what other people will think of them.


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