The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

Source: Book Expo America 2010
Hardcover, 136 pages
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The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is an adaptation of her mother’s poesiealbum (poetry album) into a narrative poem, peppered with images and actual entries, and a WWII historical time line as well as a resource listing and a section catching up with Jutta Salzberg’s family and friends and their ultimate fates.  This powerful hybrid poem/memoir not only examines the horrifying snowball effect of Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews, but also how Jewish children still found ways to maintain their childhood and enjoy the joyous moments they still had.

Salzberg lived in Hamburg, Germany, and was the daughter of a Polish born Jew who emigrated to Germany before the Nazi’s came to power, and the poetry album, much like American autograph books, begins in 1938, which became a pivotal year for Jutta.  Her father was a successful, belt, suspender, etc. salesman, who is eventually dismissed from his job because he’s a Jew. As a young lady on the verge of womanhood, she is capable of not only enjoying gossip and games with classmates, but also understand the deep seriousness of the changes around her.

Parents (page 32)
He sags
and I think how Father could use something
to hold him up--
a belt,
a suspender,
a garter...

She also has the ability to question the changes around her within the context of the words from her friends, like respecting one’s elders. Jutta wonders how she can respect someone like Hitler, who is her elder, when he spread such fear and hatred.  There is great tension in this short, narrative poem/journal as a young girl tries to find the silver lining in her circumstances, remember her friends, and enjoy moments with her family, while at the same time worrying that her immediate family will be unable to leave Germany for America as the consulate will not issue them U.S. visas.  The section of the narrative poem that is the most heart-wrenching is when Jews are forced to seek out kindness from strangers in America who just happen to have their same last name.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is powerful and a great testament to her mother’s memory, her own family’s past, and the hope generated by that remembering.  The book is not only a year of goodbyes between Jutta and her family and friends, it also contains information that may not be as well known, including the role of Jutta’s cousin Guy Gotthelf in the French Resistance and the impact of one Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan, on those left behind in Germany when he avenged the murder of his own family back in Germany.  Lasting, eye-opening, and a must read for young and old.

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books — fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting her writing career, she was a newspaper editor, and a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. She has a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland and spends as much time as she can kayaking and otherwise messing around in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Also please check out the article on her family’s journey in The Washington Post, and her own article on finding the journal in the same publication.

Also, check out her new book, Imperfect Spiral, which is published today!

Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?

On July 27, 2013, at 3:30 pm for those in the Alexandria, Va., area, Debbie will be with Beth Kephart in a joint event at Hooray for Books.

This is my 45th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


  1. Now this sounds like something I would really be able to get into!!!

  2. I thought it was touching and powerful as well. Great review!

  3. This book sounds amazing Serena. I think I’ll look into picking both up. I like the cover too – it speaks of times past.

  4. Beth Hoffman says

    Just reading your thoughts and that wonderful excerpt has me hooked. I think I need to push everything else aside today and go purchase “The Year of Goodbyes” … While I’m at it, I’m going to check out “Imperfect Spiral” too.

    Serena, thank you for featuring Debbie Levy, I’ve never read her work before, but that is about to change.

    • I hope that you pick them up and enjoy them. I had not read her work before either, but cannot wait to hear what she says about Imperfect Spiral later this month.

  5. WOW — sounds amazing! I’ll keep an eye out for it!

  6. The Year of Goodbyes sounds sad but wonderful.