A Reunion of Ghosts

Judith Claire Mitchell

How do three sisters write a single suicide note?

In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters – Lady, Vee, and Delph – finalise their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.

The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humour.

As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family – inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas – unfolds. ‘A Reunion of Ghosts’ is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all an profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.

Reviews of A Reunion of Ghosts

  • ‘Had me devouring the pages … A story that’s tragic, touching and – against all odds – strangely uplifting’ Stylist Magazine, 5 Stars

    ‘One of the sharpest, tartest, flat-out funniest books you’re likely to read any time soon… A master-class in tragi-comedy’ Hepzibah Anderson, Jewish Chronicle

    ‘A triumphant, beautiful, and devastating novel about coincidences, family, and the sins of our fathers’ Anthony Doerr, author of All The Light We Cannot See

    ‘My favourite novel of the year … This mordantly funny story of the Alter sisters is a literary mash-up of The Virgin Suicides and Grey Gardens. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola are slugging it out for the film rights already.’ Sam Baker, Harpers Bazaar, Books of 2015

    ‘A book about suicide, written by three damaged characters hell-bent on self-destruction? It may not sound a barrel of laughs, but this is not only poignant and moving, but genuinely funny — with the humour ranging from the darkest comedy to some superbly silly puns’ Daily Mail

    ‘A Reunion of Ghosts is a very funny book but it is also tender, sombre and thought-provoking’ Financial Times

    ‘Mitchell’s masterful family saga is as funny as it is aching … For the Alters, life has been a seemingly endless series of tragedies; for us, the tragedy is that this stunning novel inevitably comes to an end’ Kirkus, starred review

    ‘This original tale is black comedy at its best’ People

    ‘The Alter sisters are mordant, wry and crystalline in wit and vision; it is a tremendous pleasure to rocket through generations of their family histories with them’ Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia

    ‘A rich portrait of a complicated family, at turns violent and hilarious, shot through with love and death and the scars that reappear generation after generation’ Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers

    ‘Dark but comedic, A Reunion of Ghosts is the portrait of four generations of a complicated family’ Buzzfeed, ‘The Most Exciting New Books of 2015’