Growing up as Frankie Gershwin’s daughter, the sister of George and Ira Gershwin, was quite a challenge for Nadia Natali, author of the memoir, Stairway to Paradise: Growing Up Gershwin. She didn’t have the perspective to realize that so much unhappiness in a family was out of the ordinary. But she knew something was off. Her mother was often depressed and her father was tyrannical and scary, one never knew when he would blow up. She learned early on that she had to be the cheery one, the one to fix the problems. Both sides of her family were famous; the Gershwin side and her father who invented color film. But even though there was more than enough recognition, money and parties she understood that wasn’t what made people happy.

As a young adult adrift and depressed she broke from that unsatisfactory life by marrying Enrico Natali, a photographer, deeply immersed in his own questions about life. They moved into the wilderness away from what they considered as the dysfunction of society. That’s when they discovered that life had other kinds of challenges: flood, fire, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. They lived in a teepee for more than four years while building a house. Curiously her mother never commented on her life choice. She must have realized on some level that her own life was less than satisfactory.

Enrico had developed a serious meditation practice that had become a kind of ground for him. As for Nadia, she danced. Understanding the somatic, the inner body experience, became her way to shift the inner story.

She raised and homeschooled their three children. She taught them to read, Enrico taught them math. The kids ran free, happy, always engaged, making things, and discovering. They were so sure they were doing the right thing. However, they didn’t have a clue how they would make the transition to the so-called ‘real world’. The children thrived until they became teenagers. They then wanted out. Everything fell apart for them and for Enrico and Nadia. Their lives were turned upside down, their paradise lost. There was tragedy: their son lost his life while attempting to cross their river during a fierce storm. Later Nadia was further challenged by advanced breast cancer.

It was during these times that she delved deeply into the somatic recesses of herself. She began to find her own voice, a long learning process. She emerged with a profound trust in her own authority. It became clear that everyone had to find his or her way through layers of inauthenticity, where a deep knowing can develop. And she came to see that is the best anyone can offer to the world.

Nadia and Enrico still live in the wilds of the Lost Padres National Forest, a paradise with many steps going up and down, a life they would not change.

Review:

Can fame and money bring happiness? Nadia Natali, author of the memoir, Stairway to Paradise: Growing Up Gershwin, doesn’t believe so. Growing up financially secure in a famous family wasn’t all it was cut out to be for Nadia – enough so that she had to write her thoughts in this wonderful memoir that takes us to places in the hopes that the heart and soul would heal. Her longing for a normal life led her to Enrico Natali with whom she had a family living in a teepee surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest in California. What I loved about this book was the honesty Nadia portrayed as she wrote about her life – past and present – in the hopes she could make some sense out of it all.

When she would talk about her life as a child, I found myself totally absorbed. It was like replaying an old Shirley Temple movie.  Or at least that’s how I interpreted it…I felt as if I were watching a movie with all the glitz yet the horrors. Nadia describes her childhood as somewhat troubling. Her father is caught (by her) in bed with one of the hired help, that sort of thing, and is ordered not to say anything. This and many more situations disturbed Nadia. Despite having money, the family had some underlying deep problems, but when you think about it, isn’t that the case with famous families? Privilege doesn’t always provide happiness.

In between telling us about her childhood, Nadia tells us about life living in the teepee which I found totally fascinating. I believe it is through this journey that she is able to find herself and the reason why she wrote this thoroughly moving book.

The writing is impeccable; I would highly recommend everyone to read Stairway To Paradise, if not for a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous, but to find strength in knowing despite pitfalls and heartache, one can reach inside themselves to find peace. Sometimes it takes distancing ourselves for it to really work.

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