As a child Miranda suffered with fears that would be inexplicable in most young children but Miranda had grown up with shadowy stories of having to flee in the night and being ready just in case… this is because both her Grandparents, Anna and Armand were Jewish and had been in France at the time of the Second World War. Quite astonishingly Miranda was quite old before she even realised that they had once been married to each other as they didn’t talk to each other at all.
Until she was 14 Miranda was far closer to her Grandmother but then she went to a boarding school near to Armand and got to know the prickly man who was pernickety, fussy and an unlikely companion for a lonely teenager but every now and again a snippet from the past would present itself, often in the form of a book or a painting. One day she finds that there is a house and somehow it still appears to belong to both of them despite a forty plus year silence between them. Miranda’s mother is called upon to persuade Anna to sign a document to allow the building to be sold, but that isn’t going to be an easy task!
As an adult Miranda convinces herself that the separation precipitated by Anna when she left with her two children and her typewriter followed a passionate love affair and was determined to get to the root of the split to prove her theory. Anna was on the surface the more helpful of the two giving over a file of her life, there was just one problem Anna didn’t talk in a linear fashion and she certainly didn’t write in one. The narrative of this memoir was built over years following some careful questioning to nail down the timing of events as the couple met and then got separated by circumstances too awful to contemplate, even the date of their eventual marriage is unknown in the beginning. Miranda has to tread carefully as both Anna and even more so Armand are quick to take offence and she clearly adores both of them so the piecing together of the complex tale takes patience and time.
This is not only a story of this couple with their memories overlaid with the horrors of the time they lived in, the friends that disappeared and even after the war, the coming to terms with all that had gone before particularly as Armand was one of the translators at the Nuremburg Trials. It is also a picture of two elderly people, the present day consists of Miranda trying to look after them both, especially Armand whose prickly nature softens in old age.
It is only to be expected with such a complex task that the author never really gets to the bottom of what happened to cause the rift, but by the end of the book the theory she presents matches the evidence she found on her journey through their lives. Taken at this level the story is a mystery, there is some pleasure to be gained by deciding whether or not you feel that the right conclusion has been drawn. However, be warned this is a book that will arouse your emotions as much because of the unaffected way the tales are told, there is no manipulating of the reader, the events depicted are on the one hand only too easy to imagine, on the other, impossible for those of us for whom it is something we’ve heard about but never, thank goodness, had to experience.
The author’s writing is lyrical, the story flows that despite the many elements which include her own life’s adventures, they never seem irrelevant or padding to the ‘main’ story. Anna and Armand are ever present with the reader able to compare the carefree way Miranda explores the abandoned house in France with the horrors that the couple faced in the years before its purchase.
I thoroughly recommend this memoir to immerse yourself in the reality of those dark days and to get a sense of how history can be passed through the generations. The holocaust wasn’t just an event, the effects last until this day as we recently witnessed on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
I’d like to say thank you to the publishers Text Publishing who allowed me to read a copy of this wonderful memoir in return for my honest opinion.