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The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter: A Poet’s Memoir

by  Elaine Terranova

The Diamond Cutter's Daughter, cover

The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter: A Poet’s Memoir might be thought of as a nonfiction bildungsroman. Told in short lyric pieces it gives a picture of what it was like to grow up in a working class Orthodox Jewish family in the wake of the Depression, WWII, and then the post-war boom. Her father’s business was a luxury trade, useless when there was scarcely enough money to put food on the table. It reflects the first 20-some years of her life and of her household in Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s. She was born when the war in Europe had just begun, and the Depression that left her parents and so many others financially desperate was giving way to the new insecurity of wartime and at last, the post-war boom. Elaine was the daughter of an immigrant mother and a first-generation American father, both trying so hard to accommodate to the many changes in circumstance and culture they found happening around them, never quite understanding the America of their children.

Praise for The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter

“In Terranova’s memoir, vignettes sparkle like her father’s precious stones. Born in 1939 in Philadelphia as the youngest child and only daughter in an Orthodox Jewish family, she quietly flouts cultural norms. Through agile, sensual prose, the reader sees a black-haired brother and his red-haired wife as ‘a game of checkers, a regal battle.’ This lovely book functions as an elegy for a father who was late to appreciate his daughter’s gift. ‘A diamond, they say, lasts forever, but so too, I’d wanted to tell him, does some writing.’”
     —Natasha Sajé, author of Terroir: Love Out of Place

“‘To name something, anything, is a good thing,’ the poet, Terranova, writes. Naming is ‘a way to choose.’ And she goes on to name events from her life. Each of her small, vivid packets of prose captures a precise moment in history and documents the narrator’s participation, her consciousness, her puzzlement, delight or refusal. In the course of telling her own life, Terranova also preserves decades of Philadelphia culture—rowhouse friendships and customs, tradespeople like butchers and milkmen, distant rumors of Nazis, baseball games in Shibe Park. Both as a cultural document and as biography, this memoir is among the most brilliant I have ever read."
     —Jeanne Murray Walker, author of The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer's

“Funny, poignant, and brilliant, the Diamond Cutter’s Daughter is like that rare faceted gem, ‘light that breaks up like a prism into all the colors there are.’ Through this refracted light, Terranova writes, ‘How I studied them, my family…and I saw,’ she explains, ‘how all of us in our house were yoked to the outside, moving in the expected rotation of the world, blind to it all, but continuing.’ In this magical book she shapes ‘the fragments of memory’ and illuminates the sources of her award-winning poetry.”
     —Sharon White, author of Vanished Gardens: Finding Nature in Philadelphia

 Please order this book through your favorite online retailer:
ISBN: 978-1-933974-41-5 / $18.00 each

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