How much do we really know about the lives of our parents and the secrets lodged in their past? Judy Bolton-Fasman’s fascinating saga, Asylum: A Memoir of Family Secrets, recounts the search for answers to the mysteries embedded in the lives of her Cuban-born mother, Matilde Alboukrek Bolton and her elusive, Yale-educated father, K. Harold Bolton.
In the prefatory chapter, “Burn This,” Judy receives a thick letter from her father and conjectures that the contents will reveal the long-hidden explanations, confessions, and secrets that will unlock her father’s cryptic past. As she is about to open the portal to her father’s “transtiendas,” his dark hidden secrets, Harold Bolton phones Judy and instructs her to burn the still unopened letter. With the flick of a match, Judy ignites her father’s unread documents, effectively destroying the answers to long held questions that surround her parents’ improbable marriage and their even more secretive lives.
Judy Bolton, girl detective, embarks on the life-long exploration of her bifurcated ancestry; Judy inherits a Sephardic, Spanish/Ladino-speaking culture from her mother and an Ashkenazi, English-only, old-fashioned American patriotism from her father. Amid the Bolton household’s cultural, political, and psychological confusion, Judy is mystified by her father’s impenetrable silence; and, similarly confounded by her mother’s fabrications, not the least of which involve rumors of a dowry pay-off and multiple wedding ceremonies for the oddly mismatched 40-year-old groom and the 24-year-old bride. Contacting former associates, relatives, and friends; accessing records through the Freedom of Information Act; traveling to Cuba to search for clues, and even reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for a year to gain spiritual insight into her father; these decades-long endeavors do not always yield the answers Judy wanted and sometimes the answers themselves lead her to ask new questions.
Among Asylum’s most astonishing, unsolved mysteries is Ana Hernandez’s appearance at the family home on Asylum Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut. Ana is an exchange student from Guatemala whom Judy presumes to be her paternal half-sister. In seeking information about Ana, Judy’s investigations prove to be much like her entire enterprise--both enticing and frustrating. Was Ana just a misconstrued memory, or is she a living piece of the puzzle that Judy spent her adult life trying to solve?
Readers will relish every step and stage of Judy’s investigations and will begin to share in her obsession to obtain answers to the mysteries that have haunted her life. The suspense, the clairvoyant prophecies, the discoveries, the new leads, the dead-ends, the paths not taken—all capture our attention in this absorbing and fascinating memoir.
Asylum, Judy Bolton-Fasman’s fascinating memoir, is populated by vivid, complex, and original characters, from whom the writer inherited two languages and several mysteries to unravel and contradictory stories to set straight…. Asylum addresses the untold story of Jewish immigration from Cuba, 20th century American history, and family conflict, but as a kind of detective story begun by Bolton-Fasman as a little girl and completed after years of research and reflection. It’s delightful page-turner. –Anita Diamant author of The Red Tent and Boston Girl
Asylum has enough passion, family secrets, and political intrigue to keep even the most jaded memoir reader on the edge of his seat. But what carried me along was the warmth, precision, and gentle humor of Judy Bolton's writing. Hers is a voice that charms and captures you from the opening paragraphs. –Stephen McCauley author of The Object of My Affection and the upcoming My Ex-Life
True to her name, Judy Bolton-Fasman is a brilliant detective, searching for answers about her father both the world and in her own heart. This book is true to its name, as well, ultimately offering the solace the word “Asylum” suggests. A stunning meditation on grief and secrets--finely observed, beautifully written. –Gayle Brandeis author of The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide
Most children are spies, trying to uncover and decipher clues as to who their parents really are. But very few children discover their parents are spies. Real spies. In Asylum, Judy Bolton-Fasman proves herself to be the cleverest, most perceptive, and most compassionate of detectives, solving the mystery of her father's secret life in South America and her parents' troubled marriage. A deeply moving, beautifully written, original story of family and faith, passion and mourning, betrayal, and love. –Eileen Pollack author of A Perfect Life and The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy’s Club
A common optical illusion of childhood is that your parents are exactly who you assume them to be. But even as a young girl, Judy Bolton sensed that her father had a hidden life. A tender investigation into her own detective work as a girl builds into a profound investigation of family secrets, memory, and the legacy of being the daughter of a spy. –Howard Axelrod author of The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years of Solitude
Asylum is a deeply moving memoir that investigates the ever-complicated knot of familial love, loss and longing. Judy Bolton-Fasman beautifully captures that urge so many of us have to better understand those loved ones who were close to us yet nonetheless eluded our grasp. –Tova Mirvis author of Visible City and The Book of Separation: A Memoir
“Judy Bolton-Fasman’s profound quest to understand the mystery surrounding her Sephardic Cuban mother and her Ashkenazi American father is immensely moving, showing how unmasking hurt can lead to healing and finding the asylum of a wide-open heart. An unforgettable, deeply spiritual, culturally rich memoir!”--Ruth Behar, author of Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba
Paper With Flaps, 240 pp
Asylum, A Memoir of Family Secrets