Guest Post : Book Review :Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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It seems that Jack has got the blogging bug……..or possibly he is looking for distractions from writing his dissertation. Here is another blog post from him :-

When my mum suggested that I read Everything I Never Told You in order to review it, I was a bit apprehensive. After reading the blurb and the first few chapters, I thought that this was going to be a whodunit-esque murder mystery and therefore I told myself that I would’t enjoy this book. I trudged along though and the more I read , the more I enjoyed the book.

The story focuses on the Lees, an Asian-American family, living in a small town in Ohio during the 1970’s. The family is made up of Marilyn, the mother, who has become the very thing she despises the most; James, the father, whose greatest wish is to just fit in ;Nath, their eldest child, who can’t wait to leave; Hannah, their youngest and the most observant of them all, and Lydia, the favourite child. We join the Lees on the morning of May 3rd 1977, the day that Lydia dies.

Although this book starts with a death, it is primarily about those that were left behind. We see the mystery of Lydia’s death unravel through the eyes of each of the family members and as we do, we learn more about each of them and more about Lydia as well. Having so many narrators can often be confusing, but Ng is able to move the story between each of the characters without interrupting the flow of the story, which, in my opinion, is an impressive feat.

The story also flits effortlessly between time frames. We learn about James’ and Marilyn’s childhoods, how they met and what happened that one summer before Lydia died, the thing that that no one can talk about. We learn about Lydia’s childhood too.

Ng highlights the natural frictions that exist within a family unit. All this tension kept me on the edge of my seat and made me want to find out how the family is going to cope, once all their secrets finally come out.

Ng also deals with what it is like to grow up under the ever constant shadow of parental expectation. She captures beautifully the struggle between making your family proud and being your own person.

Ng also explores  issues of race.  She uses the character of James,  the son of Chinese immigrants,  to investigate  this topic the most. James just wants to fit in and becomes a professor of American History, specifically studying cowboys. He is constantly searching for ways to blend in and disappear from the spotlight that he feels has been on him since he was a child. Marylin, however,  sees him differently. She loves James because of his ‘uniqueness’ not in spite of it. She also sees herself as being different and has
aspirations that extend beyond the kitchen, aspirations that she forces upon Lydia.

Ng tells an exciting story with refreshing characters. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read from an up-and-coming author and I am excited to see what else she has to offer.

Jack Chorley

Book Review: Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano / The Search Warrant trans Joanna Kilmartin

Patrick Modiano was not particularly well known in what the French call ‘ Anglo-Saxon’ literary circles until he won the 2014 Nobel Prize for LIterature. In fact much of the coverage in the British press made me chuckle as the suggestion seemed to be that as very few of his works have been translated into English, he was a less than worthy winner.

Following his win , almost every bookshop in France has a table displaying his works and during a recent visit I picked up and read Dora Bruder, one of the few already translated into English, although re titled The Search Warrant for reasons I don’t really understand.

Modiano’s own father was Jewish and led a precarious existence during the Occupation, living clandestinely ( refusing to wear the star) and trading on the Black Market. Modiano’s early work La Place de l’Etoile told the story of a Jewish collaborator and led to a final rupture between the pair.

Dora Bruder covers much of Modiano’s familiar territory – the Occupation and the moral dilemmas it posed; memory and forgetting ; what is lost and what is saved. The Nobel Prize committee announced that Modiano had won the prize  for

.. the art of memory with which he has evoked the most unspeakable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation.

His starting point for the book was  a missing persons advert he came across in a 1941 copy of Paris Soir seeking the whereabouts of a 15 year old girl, Dora Bruder, who had run away from home. He seeks to fill in Dora’s story and whilst doing so he recounts much of the sad story of the Jews of Paris and their struggle to survive. He revisits his own relationship with his father and walks the streets of the city looking for traces of the life Dora lived.

,Dora comes to life again during this short novella. His prose is simple and understated yet beautiful, especially in French.He recalls a quote from Jean Genet’s Miracle de la Rose  which evoke’s Dora’s speaking voice for him.

“What the child taught me was that the true roots of Parisian slang lie in its sad tenderness”. This phrase evokes Dora Bruder so well for me that I feel I knew her. The children with Polish or Russian or Romanian names who were forced to wear the yellow star were so Parisian that they merged effortlessly into the façades, the apartment blocks, the pavements, the infinite shades of grey which belong to Paris alone. Like Dora Bruder, they all spoke with the Parisian accent, using a slang whose sad tenderness Jean Genet had recognised.

In the course of his research it becomes clear that Dora ran away from home several times. She did return to her mother’s care following the advert but by then her father was already detained in Drancy, a holding camp on the outskirts of Paris, awaiting transportation to Auschwitz.

Dora ran away one final time before being re-arrested and taken to Drancy where she left on the same transport for Auschwitz as her father. Modiano is unable to discover what impelled her to run away and what she did in her months of hiding.

I shall never know how she spent her days, where she hid, in whose company she passed the winter months of her first escape, or the few weeks of spring when she escaped for a second time. Thi is her secret. A poor and precious secret which not even the executioners, the decrees, the occupying authorities, the Dêpôt, the barracks, the camps, history, time – everything that corrupts and destroys you- have been able to take away from her.

After reading the book, I visited the Mémorial de la Shoah, the Holocaust museum in the Marais district of Paris.. As you leave the museum there is a Wall of Remembrance on which there is engraved for each year of the Occupation the name of every Jew deported from France. A moving visit was made even more emotional by seeing Dora’s name carved next to that of her father Ernest for 1942.

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