Troubador Invisible Ink

Invisible Ink

Released: 28/01/2021

ISBN: 9781800460386

eISBN: 9781800467620

aISBN: 9781800467736

Format: Paperback/eBook/Audio Book

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Invisible Ink

A Family Memoir


Martha’s parents were both extraordinary people living in extraordinary times. Ralph was a brilliant, poor Jew from the East End. Edith, also Jewish from a bourgeois family in Central Europe was a gifted pianist. They met as students in Paris in 1937 and were separated by the war. Their intimate, emotional and sometimes humorous correspondence throughout the war led to marriage in 1945. Each bore scars. She, from escaping the Nazis, he from childhood tragedy. Overshadowing them both was a secret that burdened Ralph for most of his life. After the war he became the world expert on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edith devoted herself to her piano, performing and teaching. Invisible Ink is a compassionate, astute and ultimately uplifting portrait of their relationship.

The author has also unearthed many other stories: her uncle’s heroism and pioneering work in medicine, her grandmother and cousin’s miraculous escapes from the holocaust. These are threads entwined in the greater tapestry of social and political history of the twentieth century. In discovering the truth about her family, Martha has also taken an inner journey towards understanding herself.

The Bookbag's Top Ten Self-Published Books of 2021

The Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees

The Jewish Chronicle

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph

Hackney Citizen

Jewish Chronicle

A meticulously crafted memoir. The turbulent history of 20th century Europe is the backdrop for Martha Leigh’s complex and engaging account of her family, a story of suspense, danger and revelation.

by Ruth Cornell

This is a most remarkable book. An investigation of the hidden and obscure genealogies of the author’s distinguished parents, it becomes an enthralling account of their experiences of the Second World War, the holocaust, cultural identity and physical dislocation, heroism and, at its heart, an epic love story. This is both a primary source, since Martha Leigh is keeper of the extensive family archives, and a work of history which offers new light on the Régime de Vichy, La Résistance, daring rescues and escapes from both the Nazis and the Soviets (as well as the Swiss!), the experiences of a budding concert pianist in war-ravaged Europe, and developments in post-war medical science. This brilliant writing conveys painful and intimate details of her parents’ lives with compassion yet an air of detachment, which makes the narrative all the more moving. Summing up the effect on the family of her father’s homosexuality, Martha Leigh writes, ‘it was better for us both to have an unspoken understanding’. Unspoken, perhaps, but this book is a compelling exploration of the human condition.

Curtis Price

by Curtis Price

This was a surprise for sure. I found this novel by chance and the blurb intrigued me enough to pick it up, but the writing is what kept me going. Leigh perfectly weaves the story of her family through decades, stitching together this scattered family across Europe. The research and time that went into this is not missed, through countless letters and documents we learn of her family's history, their happiest moments and darkest days. She writes this all with compassion and warmth, bringing these family members to life. There's bravery in telling her parents story, the raw and honesty that comes along with uncovering ones past. This was impactful, drawing on the importance of family but more importantly, love and acceptance. A wonderful memoir that I'm glad to have read.

by NetGalley review

Another book from my favorite time period to read on. As a human we must never let these atrocities of WW2 and the Holocaust be forgotten.

Martha, in this memoir, weaves stories of real people with real experiences and real feelings. I felt their emotions as I got to read another account of being Jewish at this time in history. I will never understand the strength that many of these persons had. I honor each sacrifice as I read books from this time period.

by NetGalley review

This is a fascinating book. It’s more than a social history, more than a family history. It tells the story of the second world war through the microcosm of a Jewish family in Europe. Apart from telling the story of incredible struggle, for me the theme which emerged throughout was the question of identity: religious, national and personal. Detailed research underpins the narrative, but this is no footnote-dripping academic book; it reads like a novel with the added ingredient that all the characters were real people. This is truly a remarkable story and I kept thinking throughout the book how it should be a film, perhaps because the author paints such a good picture of the characters and the environments in which they find themselves. Ultimately it’s a love story, primarily between two people, but also the author’s love for her family.

by Richard Houdmont

This is a beautifully written and absorbing account of the author’s parents‘ lives, focussing on their experiences during the Second World War and their developing relationship. Their early years were very different. Edith enjoyed a happy home in Czernowitz in the Austro Hungarian empire before the war and later became a lauded concert pianist after managing to narrowly escape capture by the Nazis in Paris. As a young man, Ralph struggled in relative poverty in the E end of London but later became a brilliant academic at Cambridge university and a world expert on Rousseau. Ms Leigh describes in detail their efforts to maintain their relationship during six years of separation, and the account is extremely moving and incredibly well-researched. There is a huge amount to interest the reader in this book, including the issue of identity and I would highly recommend it.

by Anne Smyth

Parents are so close to each of us, and yet they can spring surprises, sometimes during their lifetimes, and sometimes after they have died. They come when letters are unearthed and perused, and tales are told, and the greater is the potential for surprise when parents have struggled through external disruption and internal conflict. Choosing to follow the trails needs courage and an openness to admit unfamiliar aspects of these central figures in one’s life. When Martha came upon a wry joke left by her father in and amongst his many papers saying “This page is written in invisible ink“, she felt compelled to find out more.
Martha Leigh’s parents had to take critical decisions as they navigated their individual lives through the fall-out of European politics in the 1930s and 1940s. Martha takes us from Czernowitz, a much disputed town which used to be just inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire, close to the Russian border, and is today in Romania, through occupied France, Vienna, Switzerland, Germany, and London, before the family settled in Cambridge. Her mother, a passionate concert pianist and teacher, and her father, a don whose work in assembling the entire correspondence of and about Jean-Jacques Rousseau remains the definitive oeuvre, kept a few secrets.
Through her journey, Martha is able to find what lay behind the reference to invisible ink. It is an absorbing story, skilfully told, and one that triggers questions and rumination - a wholly worthwhile read.

by Helen Marquard

This was a surprise for sure. I found this novel by chance and the blurb intrigued me enough to pick it up, but the writing is what kept me going. Leigh perfectly weaves the story of her family through decades, stitching together this scattered family across Europe. The research and time that went into this is not missed, through countless letters and documents we learn of her family's history, their happiest moments and darkest days. She writes this all with compassion and warmth, bringing these family members to life. There's bravery in telling her parents story, the raw and honesty that comes along with uncovering ones past. This was impactful, drawing on the importance of family but more importantly, love and acceptance. A wonderful memoir that I'm glad to have read.

by Emily

I enjoyed this book. It was relatively easy to keep up with the names of those involved and the story is pretty amazing by the time you get to the end of the book. This a real look at the things people went through during the 1930's and 40's and how life changed for all involved.

It was easy to connect with this book because the author made it feel personal, although some sections were more exciting than others. I think this would be a good choice for anyone who is looking into this fascinating period of history, regardless of it being more of a family memoir than a history book. There is a lot of valuable insight in these pages.

The relationship between the two main people is strained at times, difficult and made more difficult by the circumstances they find themselves in, but there is a deep level of respect shared for one another and that was the best part of this account for me. I feel like that's something we can, and should, all learn from.

This book is worth reading, give it a try.

by NetGalley review

-Gosh. This is quite some book. I'll probably ruin it by reviewing it, so just buy it and read it.

End of review.

That's all I wanted to say, honestly. But I will try to explain myself.

Martha Leigh begins her book talking about a childhood spent in a slightly eccentric, immediately recognisable upper middle class English family. Her father is a Cambridge don, forever clacking away on his typewriter as he edits the complete correspondence of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his life's work. Her mother is a concert pianist who practises for hours every day. Neither parent is hugely interested in the practicalities of life. There is love in the house but also darker undercurrents that a child does not fully understand but knows is there.

It is only after her father dies and Martha begins to sort through his collected papers and correspondence, that she begins to make sense of these things that were never spoken. Ralph, her father, was a poor but gifted Jew from the East End of London, given a scholarship education. Edith, her mother, was a child with musical talent from a middle-class Jewish family in Eastern Europe. They had met in Paris during the 1930s and been separated by World War II. Somehow, they'd managed to keep in touch throughout the war years.

This journey takes us from what is today Chernivtsi in Ukraine and was then Czernowitz in Romania, to Paris, Vienna, Switzerland and London. The correspondence between Ralph and Edith is full and rich and tumultuous, as you'd expect any love story to be, but it's also underwritten with allusion and implication, partly because of wartime and censorship but also because of personal secrets. Ralph is carrying a big one.

There is so much detail in this book. From her father's papers and her own detective work, Leigh has pieced together a clear and compelling story of the war years and two families during the years leading up to the war. On her mother's side, there is the heroic resistance work done by her uncle, who later went on to be a medical pioneer, the survival of her grandmother and cousin, and the deaths in the Holocaust of others. On her father's side, there is poverty, anti-Semitism, and the tragedy of suicide. And there is a marriage borne of these years, with both parents brilliant and talented but scarred by experiences most of us could never fully understand.

The tone is clear and direct for the most part but punctuated with small asides that humanise it, sometimes laconic, sometimes sad, sometimes loving. The weight of history settles on every page.


by Jill Murphy, Bookbag

Who could have imagined that piano lessons in Paris would lead to a wartime romance by letters involving several countries and end with a family life centred round Trinity College, Cambridge? More was of course going on below the surface. Author Martha Leigh has pieced together the intriguing story of her gifted parents. Ralph was a brilliantly clever but poor Jew from London’s East End and Edith from a bourgeois central European family whose existence was threatened by the Nazis and Soviet rule.

Edith was born in the cultured city of Czernowitz, then the farthest eastern outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and went to Vienna to study for a music diploma for six years. She led an ascetic, solitary life until moving to Paris for more training, enjoying a wealth of musical and social opportunities. Here she gave Ralph music tuition while he was at the Sorbonne researching a thesis on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

While Ralph was home for the holidays, war broke out and he was unable to return. The couple always hoped to meet up but ended up keeping a correspondence through thick and thin. Letters were vetted by the censor, sometimes taking months to arrive. He was affected by childhood tragedy and a secret that burdened him for most of his life. Edith stayed on in France but with the German invasion life became increasingly precarious. So she fled to stay with her brother Reinhold and his wife Fa, both doctors in Bussières, near Lyon.

When this became unsafe Edith had a dangerous and tricky escape into Switzerland where despite internment and restrictions she continued her concert pianist activities. Reinhold joined General de Gaulle’s Free French forces and had a distinguished career in anaesthetics, despite initial resistance from French surgeons. His bravery shines through, particularly his daring and difficult rescue of his mother, also called Martha who had miraculously survived the war – despite great privations – from Soviet life in Czernowitz.

Eventually Edith came to England and the couple married in July 1945. Despite proving impractical in household affairs, she combined a musical career with bringing up two children, John born nine months after the wedding and the author in 1954. By then the couple were living in Cambridge where Ralph – a distinguished linguist – was a Fellow of Trinity College. Edith gave concerts, mainly in Switzerland, before her early death in 1972. As Professor of French at Cambridge and visiting Professor at the Sorbonne, Ralph survived his wife by 15 years, being awarded a CBE at Buckingham Palace and the Légion d’honneur from France. When he died, he left behind a legacy of 49 volumes on Rousseau’s correspondence.

The author is to be congratulated on piecing together the story from a large family archive and her research, including visiting her mother’s birthplace now in the Ukraine. She is very good at social history and describing European turmoil during the war and the legacies the conflict left on her family. She also shows insight in exploring her parents’ feelings and the difficulties they faced throughout their lives.

- Review in the Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees, July1st 20021

by Janet Weston

Martha Leigh

I grew up in Cambridge, where my father was researching into Jean-Jacques Rousseau at Trinity College, and my mother was a concert pianist. I passed A-Levels in English, French and German and then went to York University where I gained a degree in English Literature in 1976. Shortly before taking my finals, I decided I was going to train as a doctor. After qualifying, I moved East London where I worked as a GP for thirty years. My first book wrote 'Couldn't afford the eels, Memories of Wapping 1900 -1960' was based on interviews I had conducted, some of which were with my patients. I retired in 2016 but am going back to work for the NHS to help with the vaccination programme against Covid.

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