Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A story that burdens, enriches, lightens (Books - Memory by Philippe Grimbert)

Philippe Grimbert's Memory is a potent autobiographical novella about a troubled young boy, plagued by the sense that he had a brother.
Although an only child, for many years I had a brother. Holiday friends and casual acquaintances had no option but to take my word for it. I had a brother. Stronger and better looking. An older brother, invisible and glorious.

I always felt envious when I went to stay with a friend and a similar-looking boy walked in. The same disheveled hair and lopsided grin would be introduced with two words: "My brother." An enigma, this intruder with whom everything must be shared, even love. A real brother. Someone in whose face you discovered like features: a persistently straying lock of hair, a pointy tooth... A roommate of whom you knew the most intimate things: moods, tastes, weaknesses, smell. Exotic for me who reigned alone over the empire of my family's four-room flat.
A friend finally shares with him the missing piece, the secret that has haunted his parents, and that shaped him with a permanent sense of loss. Nazi-occupied Paris is the setting of this spare novel, and France's betrayal of its Jewish populace, is among the subjects. It is related in emphatic prose. Sentences that feel less written than stamped on the page, the language driven by anger, by loss, but and also by gratefulness. This story does double-duty. It is not only enriches by adding something to one narrative, its telling lightens the load for another. It is not surprising to discover that Grimbert is a psychoanalyst whose currency is personal narrative, as it is used to define, to know, and to unburden. It's a striking work, well worth the reading.

1 comment:

C.B. James said...

This sounds very good. I think I'm adding it to my TBR pile, darn you.

It's my contention that very few writers really understand what it is to be a brother. Looks like Mr. Grimbert gets it.