Inspired by the chance discovery of her mother's hidden correspondence, Ann Gluckman traced her family back to a corner of Europe that no longer exists. Andrew Stone writes
The night before Ann Gluckman leaves for the Arctic circle, she is flat out answering her phone and checking essentials in her travel kit.
"At my age," she laughs, "most of the stuff is from the medicine cabinet." One of the callers is her eldest son, Sir Peter Gluckman, the Government's chief science adviser, phoning from Zanzibar.
He was in Africa hoping to see a wildebeest migration but the animals have let him down.
"He'll probably blame the climate," says his mother.
Ann Gluckman will turn 83 somewhere near Greenland.
A milestone for sure, but perhaps not as much as the pleasure she feels about the labour of love she has just completed, a family history which emerged from a cache of hidden letters and century-old postcards sent from a part of the world which no longer exists.
She recounts the story in Postcards from Tukums, an exploration of her family's roots and a revealing account of the migrant experience - in this case, that of her Jewish forebears fleeing repression and persecution in Russia and Austria for an uncertain life in a new country.
The book is subtitled "A family detective story", an appropriate phrase because Gluckman's story unfolded from translations of unfamiliar languages on the back of the postcards and 4000 pages of letters that her mother Augusta wrote to her family but which remained hidden for decades, and from an oral history tape Augusta recorded at the age of 90, a year before she died in 1989.
Augusta was born in the Latvian town of Tukums - hence the book's title. At the time, Latvia was part of the Tsarist Russian Empire and for Jews, writes Gluckman, life was accompanied by constant fear and insecurity.
In 1910 Augusta, her sisters Sarah and Rebecca and their mother Yetta left the flat lands of their Baltic homeland and sailed to New Zealand, where they were reunited with their father, Adolph Manoy, Ann Gluckman's grandfather.
Manoy had landed in Wellington six years earlier and started building a new life. Eventually he settled in Stratford, where he set up a drapery.
"After the beauty of the Baltic," Augusta recalled almost 80 years later, "it was like landing in a desert ... all you could see were burnt-out trees wherever you were."
The postcards - there are 90 in all - followed the family across the world. Sent by friends and relatives of the Manoys, they featured photographs of historical figures, prominent writers and thinkers, rural and holiday scenes, touchstones of Jewish life and images from literature.
Brief messages on the cards - written in German, or sometimes in mixtures of Yiddish and Russian - speak of birthdays, of trips to Baltic places the Manoys might recall, and of hope that their new life will flourish.
Two professional translators deciphered the writings. Their work features in the book alongside each reproduced card, together with a commentary placing the document in a social, cultural and religious context.
Gluckman likens to collection to "a snapshop of a lost world. Not only were they of a country in a now-remote period of history, they were also mementoes of a Jewish community that was vital and thriving - and 30 years later was almost totally obliterated".
Augusta recalled: "For us to get a card from home we all more or sat down and wept and then the fighting spirit came up and we said 'well, we are going to make a proper go of it'."
The young Augusta made a "go of it" as a doctor. After graduating in 1922 as New Zealand's first Jewish woman GP, she got a job at Southland Hospital. Letters she sent her family provide a flavour of medical practice at the time - and reveal that binge drinking was a problem even then.
Invercargill was a dry area, so Saturday night drinkers had to go in search of watering holes.
"They would come back roaring drunk," she wrote. At the hospital, those worst for wear would go to a "DT [delerium tremens] room" to dry out. Dr Manoy found herself arguing with a large orderly over who would approach the inebriates and flush out their stomachs. "I would finish up by going first. They would be clambering up the wall, seeing snakes and there I was standing up to them. I had a good go at them." The doctor herself was less than 1.52m (5ft) high.
For her own reasons, Augusta tucked this history out of sight from the family she raised after marrying Sam Klippel. It emerged by chance in 2004, when workmen discovered a dusty cardbox full of insect-chewed letters hidden beneath the eaves of the Remuera house which had been first the Klippel, then Gluckman, family home.
The find was in the nick of time as the house was being demolished.
Gluckman sets out a theory in her book for the concealed history. Augusta, she writes, was bitterly upset by her father's will. Manoy left her sisters Sarah and Rebecca each two-fifths of his residual estate, with a small balance going to the young doctor.
The allocation was understandable - the sisters were unmarried and had not enjoyed the same education and travel support from their parents. Upset with her family, Augusta put the letters away.
Gluckman helped her late husband, the psychiatrist Laurie Gluckman, write two books about the history of Auckland Jewry, and published a book with Mary Tagg about the experiences of retired New Zealanders. But she feels her search into her family's hidden history has answered some deeper issues and shed light on "where I've come from and what I believe in".
Postcards from Tukums by Ann Gluckman (David Ling, RRP$45)