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Becoming Alice is a coming-of-age memoir that opens as a six-year-old IIse watches Nazi soldiers march down her street in Vienna, Austria. After a harrowing escape that will bring her to Riga, Latvia, through Russia and Japan, and over the Pacific Ocean, the family settles in Portland, Oregon.
Although safe in America at last, the family is faced with new challenges. IIse s father is unable to practice medicine and loses his self-respect when he is forced to run a mom-and-pop grocery store. Different from her classmates, Ilse is insecure and ashamed of herself as well as her troubled European family. An outrageous aunt and uncle, often comical, only add to her humiliation.
Changing her name to Alice does not alter IIse s feelings of isolation. Hoping to escape her problems, she leaves home to attend college in California, only to be overwhelmed by anxieties and panic attacks. At a boarding house in Berkeley, she is among girls from a patchwork of cultures and feels accepted at last. With both pathos and humor, Becoming Alice showcases Alice s triumph over adversity, identity crisis and the sometimes debilitating power of family ties.