Crossing Back: Books, Family, and Memory without Pain

Marianna De Marco Torgovnick


Fordham University Press

From the award-winning author of Crossing Ocean Parkway, a personal memoir about adjusting to loss through books, meditation, and the process of memory itself

Marianna De Marco Torgovnick experienced the rupture of two of her life’s most intimate relations when her mother and brother died in close proximity. Mourning rocked her life, but it also led to the solace and insight offered by classic books and the practice of meditation. Her resulting journey into the past imagines a viable future and raises questions acute for Italian Americans but pertinent to everyone, about the nature of memory and the meanings of home at a time, like ours, marked by cultural disruption and wartime. Crossing Back: Books, Family, and Memory without Pain presents a personal perspective on death, mourning, loss, and renewal.

A sequel to her award-winning and much-anthologized Crossing Ocean ParkwayCrossing Back is about close familial ties and personal loss, written after the death of her remaining birth family, who had always been there, and now were not. After their loss, she entered a spiritual and psychological state of “transcendental homelessness”: the feeling of being truly at home nowhere, of being spiritually adrift. In a grand act of symbolic reenactment, she found herself moving apartments repeatedly, not realizing she did so subconsciously to keep busy, to stave off grief. By reading and studying great books, she opened up to mourning, a process she constitutionally resisted as somehow shameful. Over time, she discovered that a third death colored and prolonged her feelings of grief: her first child’s death in infancy, which, in the course of a happier lifetime, had never been adequately acknowledged. Her new losses led her finally to take stock of her son’s death too. Reading and meditating, followed by writing, became daily her healing rituals.

A warm and intimate user’s guide to books, family, and memory in the mourning process, the end-point being memory without pain, Crossing Back is a wide-ranging memoir about growing older and learning to ride the waves of change. Lively and conversational, Torgovnick is masterful at tracking the moment-to moment, day-to-day challenges of sudden or protracted grief and the ways in which the mind and the body seem to search for—and sometimes find—solutions.