The phrase "identity crisis" has been consigned to the closest of disused cliches. Yet, if anything, the problem of identity has grown more complex as individuals continue trying to find themselves within a welter of overlapping, often contradictory, categories. There's class consciousness (courtesy of Marx), nationalism (a legacy of German Romanticism still alive and kicking), ethnicity (a recent American contribution), and religion (which often gets mixed up with race, ethnicity, nationality, even class). There's Freud's concept of the family as the crucible of personal identity. More recently, feminists have reviewed the question from the perspective of gender politics, which encompass both the psychology of the individual and the structures that determine broader cultural and social patterns.
Elaine Feinstein is not one for easy answers. Her latest novel, ironically entitled "Mother's Girl," appears to be the story of a classically Freudian father's girl who seeks vainly to win the love and approval of "superior" men, only to discover, just in time to save her self-esteem, the value of her maternal legacy. Something like this does, in fact, happen. But it's only one thread among many.
Uprooted from her beloved Budapest as a child, Halina grows up in the English Midlands. In place of her cultivated, assimilationist parents and the Continental world of Mozart, Bach, boulevards and cafes, she finds herself in the home of kindly but simple English Jews who take pride in their down-to-earth Yiddishkeit and look on Mozart and Bach as alien Germans. As Halina enters adolescence, her dashing father Leo reappears, trailing welcome clouds of worldliness. How he escaped from Nazi-controlled Hungary is something of a mystery. What happened to Halina's gentle, brave mother is also not quite known, but she is presumed dead.