May 26, 2015

a fifty-year silence.

I am several months late with this book review, but my mind has been so preoccupied with other things it's a wonder I remembered it at all! I noticed the book sitting there on my bookshelf a few days ago and felt the time has arrived to finally share it with you.

I was drawn to A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot instantaneously: I'm such a sucker for memoirs. I can't explain why I love them so! Maybe it's just a fascination with how other people live their lives, a latent obsession with true stories and various expressions of humanity itself. Whatever you call it- memoir is easily my favorite non-fiction genre.

Through the early pages of this book, I had a difficult time getting attached to the characters and the flow of the narrative. Miranda is a young woman haunted by her family's past who expatriates to France in order to find answers about the life her grandparents lived together before their ultimate divorce and estrangement from one another. Anna is her grandmother: a brilliant, colorful woman: a physician with a gypsy soul and adventurous spirit.

Miranda is very close to her grandmother, who had come to the United States to start a new life with her children after the demise of her marriage to Armand. Her relationship with Armand, however, is strained. Armand is the sort of person who's hard to grow close to: embittered by the past (he won't even speak Anna's name out loud), he built a meticulously ordered existence in Geneva, Switzerland to the exclusion of everyone around him like a wall to keep the painful past away.

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As a teenager, Miranda travels to live with her grandfather in Geneva for a time. During her stay with Armand, they take a trip to Alba, France together and Miranda learns that he owns an ancient house there. Armand gives her a perfunctory tour of the place and Miranda is entranced by the history and nostalgic beauty of the place. Immediately, she feels at home in the dusty ruins and begins to dream of returning one day. Years later, as a college student, Miranda returns to live in the antiquated house and try to discover the truth about her family's history.

Through letters written by her grandmother and tedious conversations with her grandfather, time spent pouring through historical records and piecing together the timeline of her grandparent's doomed romance, Miranda begins to slowly unravel the truth of her grandparents' history and their narrow escape of the Nazi invasion and Holocaust. Meanwhile, Miranda meets a young Frenchman in a cafe in the nearby village and they begin to fall in love.

While narrative in this memoir didn't immediately draw me in, I shortly found myself hooked on the poignant details of Miranda's familial history. Like the young author herself, I grew desperate to know more about her grandparents and the forces that drew them together, and ultimately flung them so far apart that Anna chose to put an ocean between them. Although the mystery of Anna and Armand's estrangement is never fully resolved, I think enough details are given to draw conclusions and finally put their shared history to rest.

A Fifty-Year Silence is poignant and beautifully written. The love story of Anna and Armand will continue to haunt me for years to come. I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a great memoir, and especially those who are drawn to tales of Holocaust survival and life in Europe during the World War II era.

I received a review copy of A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot from the kind folks at Blogging for Books. All opinions expressed are my own.

What have you been reading lately, my friends?

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