The Leopard Hat

(Nonfiction; Vintage, 2002)

Valerie Steiker’s memoir of her mother, Gisèle, is told in a series of first-person narratives spanning her mother’s childhood in Antwerp, her arrival in New York City, her courtship and marriage, the birth of Valerie and her sister, the girls’ childhoods and adolescence, and up until several years after her death to cancer, when the author was just twenty. Many writers tell stories of heartbreak using sentiment or exhibitionism to draw in the reader, but very few writers tell seductive stories of love that, in spite of being revealed in all their complexity, are in the end joyful; though Gisèle Steiker’s death is at the literal and metaphoric center of the story (and it is impossible to read those passages without weeping), this book is not an elegy.

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