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Someone Not Really Her Motherby Harriet Scott Chessman
Synopses & Reviews
The captivating story of a contemporary American family, in which three generations of women confront the intricacies of memory, geography, and motherhood, from the lauded author of Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper.
As Hannah Pearl's memories of her 1940 escape to England from war-torn France come to the foreground of her consciousness, her memory of her more recent American life, including her relationships with her daughter and granddaughters, is almost erased. Her daughter, Miranda, attempts to bring her mother into the present and the daily activities of family life, yet finds herself instead pulled into Hannah's unresolved past. Miranda's daughters confront the shadows of history in their own ways. Fiona, content with her life as a new mother, tries to ignore the ghostly presence of Hannah's family, who perished in the war, while Ida clings to Hannah's revelations as if they form a lifeline. Facing the mystery of Hannah's unspoken memories of grief, each woman must ask how well anyone can know the inner life of another person, even of someone one cherishes.
"'How long can a war last?' This question — metaphorical, physical and above all, emotional — sits at the heart of this brief novel by Chessman (Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper; Ohio Angels), centered around Hannah Pearl, a French-born World War II survivor now residing in a Connecticut nursing home, where she is increasingly prey to memory loss. The author uses Hannah's condition as the starting place for a series of finely crafted meditations that blur the lines between past and present, English and French. This technique allows for many melancholy confusions. Hannah's ongoing encounters with unrecognizable yet familiar family members convey a quiet, heartbreaking grace as they digress into memories of loss undiscussed for years: Hannah's departure from France as a teenager in the 1930s, the loss of her family in the Holocaust, her marriage to an Englishman, his death in the war. Hannah's daughter, a museum curator, and her granddaughters, a young mother and a college student, write and visit, but cannot penetrate the fog in which Hannah is lost. Chessman creates a lovely if precious world filled with snapshots, letters and internal dialogue, but the gradual fading away of the protagonist leaves a hole at the book's center. Agent, Amy Williams. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Told through the voices of these four women, the novel intricately reveals the fleetingness of memory and the delicate lacework of love between mothers and daughters. This is a lovely and poignant story to savor." Booklist
"A chilling portrait of mental disintegration, Someone Not Really Her Mother also captures the heartbreak of a family bereft of history....Though a slim volume, [it] is a haunting one, and a pleasure to remember." San Francisco Chronicle
"Family, motherhood, memory, and loss intermingle as the novel switches viewpoints. But the reader spends the most time with Hannah's interior dialog and gets only a glimpse of the other characters' lives....Recommended." Library Journal
"A lovely, moving book — elegant in its economy, delicately powerful. Chessman beautifully captures the rich relationship between model and painter." Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring
"For me, it achieves the sublime." Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue
As Hannah Pearl's memories of her 1940 escape to England from war-torn France all but erase her more recent American life, each of her daughters struggles with facing the mystery of Hannah's unspoken memories of grief.
About the Author
Harriet Scott Chessman is the author of the acclaimed novels Ohio Angels and Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper as well as The Public is Invited to Dance, a book about Gertrude Stein. Formerly an associate professor of English and women's studies at Yale University, she has also taught literature and writing at Bread Loaf School of English and Wesleyan University, and has published several essays on modern literature.
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