Isenberg’s account of the heiress’ double life, as she goes about her everyday business attending medical school in Vienna and single-parenting a daughter while secretly passing information between members of the Austrian underground and eventually acquiring false passports for whole families of endangered Viennese citizens, reads like a suspense thriller. Never mind the fact that you can skip ahead to culminating chapters to learn that Muriel was never taken into custody herself, even though her father was Jewish, or that you can glance through the black-and-white photos tucked into the book’s center to see that she lived to a healthy old age. Her involvement in everyday espionage is nerve-wracking.
As Isenberg discovers in her voluminous research, Muriel’s life unfolds in multiple fascinating plotlines, any one of which could become a stand-alone book. Born at the turn of the 20th century into a meatpacking dynasty, she enjoyed a measure of comfort and luxury unimaginable to the majority of Americans of the era. Instead of wallowing in her privilege, Muriel became aware of the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, including the unfairness of women being banned from voting. At 14, she organized a suffrage march in front of her family’s mansion. She entered Wellesley at 16, where her socially progressive, politically radical perspective was solidly formed. Leaving signs of her riches behind, she moved to England and studied at Oxford.
A self-directed woman confident in her own agency, Muriel chose her own path to adulthood based on her very personal emotional, physical and psychological desires. That she had the private wealth to do so while the have-nots around her struggled is not a detriment to Muriel’s integrity. Indeed, as Hitler’s regime consumed her beloved Vienna, her money served to fund the Resistance movement, helping people to escape and establish themselves elsewhere. In fact, even after Muriel and her third husband moved to the United States, she continued to support refugees in Europe and in America.
And that’s only another of the many threads in Muriel’s complex tapestry. Isenberg delves into the subject’s relationship to Anna Freud and her famous father, Muriel’s dedication to becoming a psychiatrist in order to help people to heal themselves from childhood trauma, her establishment of a vast watershed preserve in the region in which the Buttingers settled in New Jersey, the establishment of a foundation in London to maintain Freud’s legacy and the many notable people whom she befriended here and abroad.
Isenberg earned a BA in English from Brooklyn College and studied in the graduate English Department of Hunter College. A former award-winning reporter, she is now adjunct professor of English at Marist College and lives with her husband in the Hudson Valley. Isenberg’s capable scholarship makes for a truly engaging biography in Muriel’s War. She will be at Barnes & Noble in Kingston on Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. to read from and sign copies of the book.
Also at Barnes & Noble in Kingston:
Sunday, February 27 at 2 p.m. –Thelma Adams will be in the store to read and sign her debut novel Playdate.
Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. – As a freelance journalist, Marianne Schnall has interviewed many of the world’s most interesting and influential women. In Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice, she brings together the most inspiring and empowering quotes from these interviews.
At Bard College in Annandale:
Monday, March 7 at 2:30 p.m. in the Weis Cinema in the Bertelsmann Campus Center – Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer prizewinning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, will read from his work. Butler will be introduced by novelist and Bard Literature professor Bradford Morrow. The reading, presented as part of Morrow’s “New Directions in Contemporary Fiction” course, is free and open to the public; no reservations are required.
At Inquiring Minds in New Paltz:
Friday, March 18 at 7 p.m. – Robert Milby and Jason Gehlert will read from their new co-authored book Ghost Print, billed as a tapestry of horror, loves lost, lives lost, angry spirits, demonic hunters and a bus ride to Hell.
March 25 at 7 p.m. – Meet author Leslie Daniels, who will read from her new novel Cleaning Nabokov’s House.
At Merritt Books in Millbrook:
Friday, March 11at 7 p.m. at the Cary Institute – Merritt Books hosts author and senior editor at Harper’s magazine Donovan Hohn, who will present his book Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. Billed as a journey into the heart of the sea and an adventure through science, myth, the global economy and some of the worst weather imaginable, the tale follows oceanic currents in search of the source of one major incident of plastic pollution. The Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies is located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike in Millbrook.
At Mirabai in Woodstock:
Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. – Three local authors/mediums will read from their newly released books, all channeled works. Channeling is the esoteric process of receiving messages or inspiration from invisible beings or spirits. Meet Margaret Doner, author of Wisdom of the Archangels; Bente Hansen, author of Edgar Speaks: Inner Transformation, Journey to 2012 and Earth Changes; and Suzy Meszoly, author of Infinite Universe: Journeys with the Master Teachers. The event is free. Seating is limited on a first-come, first-served basis. Light refreshments will be served.
At Oblong Books in Rhinebeck:
Friday, February 25 at 7:30 p.m. – Come to a reading and signing with Woodstock author Jay Wenk for his recent book Study War No More: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Fights the Nazis. Wenk is one of the founders for Veterans for Peace.
Sunday, February 27 at 4 p.m. – Young-adult writer E. Lockhart launches her new book Real-Live Boyfriends. A part of Oblong’s Hudson Valley Young Adult Society (HVYAS) series, the story follows the neurotic, hyperverbal heroine Ruby Oliver on her further adventures in the drama of growing up. HVYAS is a literary salon of teens, teachers, librarians, booksellers, writers and readers of all ages who love young-adult books. If you fit into this category, check into it at Oblong.
Sunday, March 27 at 4 p.m. – Meet young-adult author Judy Blundell when HVYAS brings the best and brightest young-adult authors to the Hudson Valley in a memorable and fun partylike “literary salon” atmosphere, with refreshments, conversation and giveaways for attendees. Her latest offering is Strings Attached, a tale of a 16-year-old girl caught in a mix of love, mystery, Broadway glamour and mob retribution set in 1950s New York.
At Oblong Books in Millerton:
Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. – After 15 years as editorial director for Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Margaret Roach moved upstate in an effort to lead a more authentic life. She will read from her memoir And I Shall Have Some Peace There.