Posts Tagged ‘philippe grimbert’

I made up for finishing only 2 books during the Read-a-Thon by reading all of Philippe Grimbert’s novel (really a novella) Memory during my Monday morning commute. The story grabbed me from the first page, and I flew through the 153 pages in a little over an hour. There are so many layers to this story that it’s really hard to put my thoughts into words, but I loved it and want you all to love it, too, so I will try.

Memory is dubbed a novel, but as the narrator shares the same name as the author and ultimately the same profession — a psychoanalyst — it is uncertain how much truth there is to the story. The narrator was born after World War II to French Jews who survived the Nazi Occupation by fleeing to a rural area outside the demarcation line and changed their name from Grinberg to Grimbert to disguise their Jewish roots. He knows he has an older brother who is dead but never mentioned, and he invents an imaginary brother to take his place. As a teenager, he learns that his parents have been hiding the truth about their past, and this is where the Holocaust story comes in to play. Because he is told his parents’ story by a neighbor and close friend and cannot approach his parents about what he’s learned, he doesn’t know what his parents were doing, thinking, and feeling during the war. So he fills in the gaps, and the memory he invents ultimately becomes his truth.

Originally written in French and published with the title Secret, Memory was translated by Polly McLean. I was worried that the book might lose something in the translation, but the prose flowed beautifully and wrapped me up in a heartbreaking story of love and loss that would not let go. Here are some of my favorite passages:

We’ve always had that name, he would snap. That much was obvious and not to be contradicted: our name could be traced right back to the Middle Age–wasn’t Grimbert a hero of the Roman de Renart? An m for an n, a t for a g; two tiny changes. But of course M for mute hid the N of Nazism, while G for ghosts vanished under taciturn T. (page 9)

My parents’ story, which in my first tale I had imagined so straightforward, became tortuous. Blindly I followed its path, on an exodus that took me away from those I loved toward unfamiliar faces. I walked a road full of murmurs, now able to make out the corpses laid out on the verge. (page 59)

The enemy can no longer simply be distinguished by gray-green uniforms and long raincoats; it may also be hidden beneath the shiny cuffs of local government employees or the capes of policemen, the authority of police chiefs, or even the friendly gaze of one’s neighbors. The big platform buses that took city dwellers to work and dropped passengers at parks and cinemas will soon become heavy with cargoes of men and women loaded with bundles of belongings. The small buses that used to take excited families on their holidays now stop in front of buildings in the early hours, sowing terror. (page 81)

I found Memory to be a very sad book, but I loved it because it gave me a lot to ponder. The prose is sparse; we don’t get a lot of character or scene descriptions, but Grimbert says a lot about the narrator and his parents — or at least how the narrator perceives his parents — in so few pages. There’s the Holocaust aspect to the story, lending a heaviness to the narrative, but it also raises a lot of questions about how much we really know about our families and how far we are willing to go to protect our loved ones from the pain of the truth.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we take time to remember the 6 million Jews killed during World War II. Serena and I wrote up a post on War Through the Generations about some of the events taking place today to honor the memories of the Holocaust victims. We hope you will check it out.

Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Memory. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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