By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated July 20, 2007 04:00 AM

Dense, dark family history — loosely based on the author’s own — becomes relatable and funny through the no-nonsense narration of Elisabeth Rother, an upstanding Catholic German who marries a Jewish doctor before WWII. Her haughty indignation wards off the SS for a while. But finally the couple and their spirited daughter, Renate, are forced to flee to the New World, and Elisabeth’s staunch sense of propriety is challenged — by Renate and, later, Renate’s rebellious daughter, Irene. Sadly, Irene Dische’s sprawling multi-generational approach in The Empress of Weehawken smothers the plot. More focus would’ve made Grandma even more of a pleasure to read. B