22 May 2015

Review #223: Out from the Underworld by Heather Siegel with giveaway and author interview

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“To those who are struggling. To talk about a struggle, you're likely to forget about it. To be shown a struggle, you're likely not to forget it. But, to live through a struggle, you'll understand it.”

----Valerie Owens

Heather Siegel, an American author, pens her memoir called, Out from the Underworld where she narrates about her mother's sudden disappearance, living under shabby conditions, abandonment, foster care and finally standing strong through all the challenges in her life.


Heather Siegel was six years old when her mother disappeared, sending her father into a tailspin that took Heather and her siblings down with him—from a comfortable suburban home to a barely habitable basement apartment, a dark world they soon found themselves fighting to return to from the exile of foster care, then fighting even harder to escape.

Forty years later, Heather Siegel tells the remarkable story of how she and her siblings, Jaz and Greg, banded together to find out what happened to their mother and fight their way Out from the Underworld with nothing but their wits, determination, unbreakable bonds and gifts for humor and compassion to sustain them. A wrenching, inspiring story filled with heartbreak, hope and love, Out from the Underworld will move you to laughter and tears.

Heather is left abandoned by her own mother, who was a gorgeous yet a hippie woman, along with her elder sister, Jaz and her younger brother, Greg. The author narrates her painful journey from her father's underground basement apartment at his parents' home to foster care to the abuses to the feeling of abandonment at such a tender age.

Heather describes her father as a good man and even though he couldn't provide basic shelter for his children, Heather still loves him with vigor. All through her childhood while growing up, she bonded well with her sister, Jaz, since her brother, Greg got placed under a good foster family. On the other hand, Heather and Jaz had not much luck and went through a lot of challenges and difficulties like abuse while growing up.

But the pain of their mother leaving them under such harsh conditions, never left Heather for a single moment whereas her sister was brave and strong enough to mask that pain with her smart attitude. Their struggle for survival through the storm filled Heather with hope to move forward in her life.

The author pens a very honest and heart-felt memoir with her evocative yet disturbing narrative style. From the very first page, the author's crisp words captivated my mind. The descriptions are vividly portrayed with careful intricacy and detailing of each scenes, thus it let me see through her than child's eyes. The writing style is fantastic as she layered with the right emotions to make the story a page-turner. Her broken and lost childhood only made her stronger and transformed her into a better person.

I believe people who've grown up in a foster care and have had a broken childhood can easily relate to the author's painful journey. Th emotions that the author try to capture only made my heart fill with sadness and gratification. And the way she unfolded her whole life story forty years later, made me see it like it only happened yesterday.

Her life story is miserable yet thoroughly inspiring enough to see how wrong choices by the parents can destroy the childhood of their children, how responsibility is the one main thing that holds a family together and how hope helps us battle any war in this world.

Verdict: This is a must read memoir for all those who belong from a broken home and a broken childhood.

Courtesy: I received this book for a blog tour, and I'm glad that I got to read this memoir. 

Author Info:
Heather Siegel earned her MFA in nonfiction from The New School and has been published at Salon.com as well as various trade magazines. A multi-faceted creative, she is the founder of two Long Island coffeehouses which foster arts and music, as well as a juice and beauty bar. Heather currently writes in a house full of light, where she lives with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Heather on: Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter 

Author Interview:

Me: Hello and welcome to my blog, Heather. Congratulations on your memoir, OUT FROM THE UNDERWORLD. Can you please share with us what this memoir is based upon?

Hi Aditi, thanks for having me. Yes, this memoir is based on my childhood, though it extends into my early twenties. It’s about the disappearance of my mother and the effects her absence had on all of us… about life with my funeral director father in a basement apartment—an underworld of sorts—as well as life in and out of foster care. And it’s also about rallying against a victim mentality.

In many ways, my story is dark, literally and figuratively. The basement, the funeral home, dysfunction, death. But it’s also a story that borders the absurd; a lot of what happened in my childhood was simply unnecessary. And for this reason, I also approached it with a degree of humor when writing about it.

Me: What inspired you to pen this memoir?

Well, part of my story is that reading helped me find my way out from the madness. Books were the place I turned to for advice and counsel—and perspective-- when the adults around me were acting… well, less than adult.

In my teens, I read any book I could get my hands on. In college, as I studied literature, I began to lean toward the non-fiction texts. I liked reading true stories about people’s trials and triumphs, and how they processed their experiences and turned them into art. I read George Orwell’s essay, Such Such Were The Joys around this time and it floored me. It was heartbreaking and funny and smart— a triple whammy.

It was also around this time that the desire to share my experience clicked on. But I would still need many more years of reading—and writing—to teach myself how to write decently. I would also need to live some more of this story out--as you will see in the book—in order to a gain perspective I didn’t have when I was in college.

Me: How did you research for your memoir, OUT FROM THE UNDERWORLD?

I did ask my father and my grandparents and some other characters a lot of questions about my mother’s disappearance—and I actually kept an old notebook or two. I also found some documentation and photographs that I refer to. But mainly, I just recounted and shaped my own memories.

A significant character in the story recently read the book and wrote to me on Facebook that “Every word is true.” That’s nice to have validation like that— especially from her, since some of what I say about her character can be a bit unflattering.

Me: Was it always your one true dream to be an author?

No. Growing up, I would say that it was my one true dream to have windows in my house. Also, I think I fancied myself more a talk show host. Later—as I mentioned, in college, the idea settled in that just maybe I should write my story and add it to the collective memoir shelf. But even then, I also had other creative interests…and still do.

Me: How will you describe your journey so far as an author?

I would describe it in one word: Long!

I actually wrote a piece about my journey to becoming an author for Author Magazine. It’s called “One Way to Get There.” 

Me: Tell us one distinct thing from your childhood that influenced to be
the person that you're today?

Being able to laugh with my brother and sister. We had a choice: we could cry about the craziness and become victims like the adults before us did, and the adults before them did, or we could laugh about it. Look, sometimes we cried. But even when we did, we always managed to find the funny afterward.

Sometimes in the middle of something painful, we would just turn to each other and offer each other a sanity check with a joke. It’s kind of odd to think about, but I actually think I developed my sense of humor because of this wacky childhood.

Me: What other passions do you have apart from writing?

I’m interested in health and cooking. I like trying out new recipes. I just tried making a cauliflower pizza crust the other day. Not my best work, honestly, but I suspect I forgot a crucial ingredient.   

I also care deeply about animal welfare. It’s not easy to face the truth about, say, factory farming, but I don’t think turning a blind eye is the answer either. I know I can’t change the world, but I can make changes within my own small world.

 Me: Tell us about your favorite memoir that inspired you a lot.

There are many... Black Boy, A Bronx Tale, This Boy’s Life, Fierce Attachments, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Half a Life, Angela’s Ashes, An Autobiography of a Face, Running With Scissors… I could keep going…

Me: What's next up on your writing sleeves? Please tell us briefly about it.

I am working on a few things, but they are all in gestational phases right now. I do plan to continue working in creative non-fiction, but I would also like to try my hand at fiction one day in the near future.

Me: Thank you Heather for joining me today in this interview session. I wish you luck for all your future endeavors.

Thanks again for having me, Aditi. It was a pleasure. 


Book Purchase Links:


Win one of five print copies of Out from the Underworld and a music CD from Greg Fine (Open to USA & Canada) 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Oh wow, a true story as well. I can't imagine what it must be like to have been in this situation - without a mother and living in such poor conditions. I truly admire the author for being able to pull through all this.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Olivia :-)

  3. Hi Aditi, Thanks again for having me. I like the design of your blog.

  4. My Pleasure :-) And thanks a lot! :-)


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