Book Review: Dear America: One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, The Diary of Julie Weiss (Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938) by Barry Denenberg

oneyeThis book is most unlike the other books in the series. As it begins, Julie is a privileged, well-to-do Jewish girl in Vienna, the daughter of a successful doctor, when Hitler annexes Austria and her world is turned upside-down. After witnessing the heinous atrocities committed by the Nazis upon their Jewish neighbors, Julie’s father sends her overseas for her safety, to live with her estranged aunt and uncle in New York City. While Julie starts out as a rather snobbish girl, boasting of her own intelligence and concerned about trivial matters, the reader, knowing where history is headed, expects a major transformation once the girl loses her luxurious lifestyle and witnesses the terrors of the Nazis. But the expected transformation does not exactly occur; instead, Julie goes from being snobby, verbose and unlikable, to completely depressed and withdrawn.

What pained me about this story most were its many blunt adult references that I found to be most uncharacteristic of the DA series, including Julie watching her maid take a bath and remarking upon her large “bosoms” floating, a boy looking up Julie’s skirt, swear words, the suicide of a main character, teen pregnancies, and babies out of wedlock, Julie’s blunt denial of belief in God and ceasing to capitalize the word ‘God’, and learning the American term “make whoopee.” While this is relatively light stuff to most adults, it was off-putting to find in a DA book, especially since these references were unnecessary for recounting the history or advancing the plot. As well, we never do find out the answers to so many mysteries the author had set up, nor even do we find out why the book is called “One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping,” as the phrase is never mentioned anywhere. I was also disappointed that this book recycled a theme from Dreams in the Golden Country, where the narrator – ironically, also a Jewish immigrant in New York City – takes to the stage and finds her passion in acting.

To say something good about this book, it was very readable and still difficult to set down. Perhaps on its own, outside of the DA series, it’s a solid YA WWII read.