Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

The author’s maternal grandparents, Anna and Armand, met in 1936, married in 1944, separated a few years later and never spoke again after 1955, although Anna lived until 2010 and Armand until 2015, she in America and he in Switzerland. Mouillot felt the silence between her grandparents as a heavy shadow, in part because she was close to her grandmother, incorporating the rift as part of her personality. From her teenage years on, the author came to know her grandfather through periodic visits. Eventually as a young adult, Mouillot lived in an abandoned house in France which belonged to her grandparents and made it her quest to piece together the history of their life together, tracing their meeting, their mostly separate journeys through World War II and what little she could unearth about their marriage and subsequent life. Anna appears to have been an open, grateful, and expansive woman, while Armand comes across as guarded, defensive and even crotchety. While the differences in their personalities may well have driven them apart, the back cover of the book says, “As she reconstructs the overwhelming odds her grandparents braved together and how the knowledge Armand acquired at Nuremberg destroyed their relationship, Miranda wrestles with the legacy of trauma, the burden of history, and the complexities of memory.” The book is as much about Mouillot’s own life and her journey toward uncovering what she believes to be the whole story as it is about her grandparents. It makes for an uneven pace, as chapter after chapter serves as foreshadowing. There were times when I felt as if I was deeply into the book with little movement toward the truth of the situation. It is not until page 240 of this 267-page book that the first mention of the trials at Nuremberg appears. Suddenly, like the accelerated pace of adding the last pieces of a puzzle, the author ties her theory together that Armand’s role as a translator at the trial affected him so deeply that it drove a permanent wedge between Anna and Armand. By that time, the reader has been so steeped in the narrative of the differences in their personalities and perspectives, it seems coincidental that Armand’s job was traumatic to him, and it is almost hard to imagine that his role had that great an effect. Because of what felt like a very rushed ending, the story felt unsatisfactory to me, leaving me with a different perspective than probably the author intended, which was that the grandparents’ marriage was on shaky ground from the start--the author acknowledges that no one really knew why they married; even the grandparents themselves were not clear--so any challenge might well have driven them apart. This is not a book I would recommend, as its very uneven construction results in the story feeling uneven also. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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