Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Exclusive Love. . .

Reading Johanna Adorján's An Exclusive Love , translated by Anthea Bell, inevitably makes one think about your own grandparents. Most of us take them for granted, especially when we're very young, and by the time we're adults ourselves and take a greater interest in our family history, sadly they are often no longer with us.  Who doesn't have a slew of questions they'd now love to ask?

In the case of Adorján, her grandparents' deaths together by suicide raised a number of questions that she knew would never be answered, especially as it was a subject her family never wanted to talk about. Her grandparents - both Hungarian Jews - had survived the Holocaust and the communist uprising, fleeing to Denmark where they lived for the remainder of their lives. They also would never talk about their past. Adorján was only twenty when they died.

Her memoir details her search for more information about her grandparents' lives. She interviews their friends and visits the concentration camp where her grandfather nearly died. She doesn't find out much; this is not the type of book that has a huge secret to reveal.  Rather, it's the task itself that not only helps her to grieve, but also to examine the ways she herself fits into her family story, and how that inheritance affects her sense of identity, particularly in terms of her Jewish heritage. Interspersed with her research are imagined episodes from the last day of her grandparents' life, filled with what might seem to be tiny and mundane details, but are all the more moving given the context. The book is thoughtful, never sensationalist, and written with a poignant respect for its subjects and subject matter.  Truly a book that  would interest readers of all ages, and could be shared among three different generations.

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