Memory: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Feb 12 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In this slim, bleak second novel, French psychoanalyst Grimbert fictionalizes his wrenching family history, hidden for much of his youth. Born a sickly child in post-WWII Paris, Grimbert's narrator, Philippe Grimbert, develops an obsessive fascination with the lithe, muscular bodies and athletic prowess of his beautiful parents. His fantasy life extends to an imaginary brother who at first offers comfort and protection, but soon becomes a way for the young narrator to vent his frustration with his own weakness and pallor. At 15, a violent altercation with a schoolroom bully over a lesson on Holocaust victims results in the revelation of his origins: Grimbert, the narrator's family's name, was once Grinberg, and the story of his parents' romantic retreat to the country during the war is shattered by a heartbreaking story of betrayal and sacrifice in occupied France. For Grimbert, the aftermath of WWII forced survivors into prisons of their own memories and denial, bound together by an impossible grief. The story is powerful and gripping, but the juxtaposition between young Philippe's fantasy life and adult wartime realities is underdeveloped. Readers will share in the catharsis of Grimbert's revelations, but may feel a lingering emptiness once his family's secrets have been fully purged. (Feb.)
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"The comfort we get from the cold raw truths -- death and loss and longing -- is that life itself is capable of small beauties. Grimbert captures this with style, depth and grace. Memory is a stunning book which simultaneously manages to widen our sense of history and story-telling." -- Colum McCann, author of Zoli and Dancer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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At the outset, Philippe is the 98-pound weakling son of parents Maxime and Tania, who are both paragons of physical beauty and athletic skill. Young Philippe sees ever-present disappointment in his father's eyes, so much so that he invents an imaginary and physically robust older brother as his protector. An incident in school during a classroom discussion of the Holocaust leads fifteen year old Philippe into a fight where he is beaten by a much larger classmate. As a result, the family's long-time friend, a woman named Louise, decides to reveal to Philippe the long and complex story of his unknown past.
Needless to say, that past is full of surpises and horrors, at least one of which is reminiscent of Styron's SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Philippe's parents are not entirely who he has believed they were, and he learns further about past family members whom he never knew existed. To say any more would be to reveal spoilers unnecessarily.
Grimbert's novella is neatly packaged, a chronological coming-of-age and coming-of-personal-awareness tale wrapped around Louise's account of the Grinberg/Grimbert family experiences during World War II. Dogs - real, stuffed toy, and buried in a pet cemetery - play a symbolic role in the story, as (perhaps a bit too neatly) does Maxime's and Tania's facility with diving.
One is tempted to argue that the same Holocaust story has been told many times before, just as the Cultural Revolution story from China has been recounted in so many different ways. What can be left still to say? Yet when all is said and done, MEMORY effectively adds another small chapter to the full story and reminds us once again of the devastating choices such horrors force upon both victims and perpetrators. Perhaps what makes this book different is that we see the Holocaust events one generation removed. Grimbert displays their after-effects as imposed on a young man who was not yet born during that turbulent era and who must view everything he learns through a lens that simultaneously informs who he is and corrects his beliefs about who and what he thought he was.
These dogs stand in contrast to two dogs belonging to members of the narrator's family--one that is stuffed and is discovered hidden away in an attic; another, named Echo, who is killed by a car. The narrator, primarily through discussions with a family friend, pieces together the secret, or secrets, that haunt the family over the decades that follow the war.
At the heart of the book is a love story whose contours would merely be melancholy but common in a normal time; within its context, however, it takes on a tragic cast. That story propels the reader through this brief, affecting book.
This concise fictionalized account of the author's family history is written more from a psychological viewpoint than from that of a mere story. This makes sense, since Mr. Grimbert, the author, is a psychoanalyst. Spare on words, but generous on emotions, this little book stresses how the ramifications of the Holocaust will forever linger within memories that shape lives. Inhuman disaster of such cataclysmic proportion lingers in the human experience for generations, transforming human existence.
This book is interesting, but there were many missed opportunities for development of the story line. Maybe this is due to the fact that this book is so succinct. It does have a certain charm due to its simplicity.