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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z



Memory Cover

ISBN13: 9781416559993
ISBN10: 141655999x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert has written a fictionalized account of his discovery, at the age of fifteen, of the secret of his parents' past. Growing up in the years just after the Nazi occupation of France, the protagonist, who shares the author's name, lives in a world of secrets and loud silences. Even his last name, changed from Grinberg to Grimbert, conceals a hidden truth — his family is Jewish. As a teenager, Philippe slowly pieces together the truth about his origins: his father, Maxime, had been married to another woman, Hannah, before his mother. Hannah and Maxime had had a son, Simon. Philippe has grown up unaware of his parents' secret but nevertheless sensing the shadow of these absent others, and haunted by his father's silent comparisons of him to his dead older brother.

Grimbert's richly psychological novel explores the impact of shame and secrecy on Philippe's emerging sense of self. As Philippe imagines different versions of his parents' story, he exposes the complexities of desire and loss, grief and repression that have shaped their lives. Lyrically evocative of both the fear permeating Vichy France and the tense silence of the postwar years, Memory is a powerful statement about the devastation wrought by repression and the liberating power of the truth.

Questions for Discussion

1. Philippe imagines two versions of his parents' story. In both cases many details are supplied by his imagination. What are the significant differences and similarities between the two stories? Why is it so important for Philippe to imagine them in such detail?

2. Philippe frequently refers to his parents' extreme athleticism and his own physical weakness as a child and adolescent. As the threat of deportation looms, Philippe images Maxime training harder than ever before, "keen to cover his chest with medals, to stand on the highest step of the podium." Discuss the significance of physical strength in the novel.

3. Who was President Laval? Describe the two occasions in which Laval's name appears in the novel. What is the psychological function of these seemingly coincidental occasions for Philippe?

4. Why does the young Philippe invent a fictional older brother? Describe the role of this imaginary brother in Philippe's life.

5. What happens to the imaginary brother once Philippe learns of Simon's existence? Why?

6. Watching a fictional movie set during the war years, the adolescent Philippe is aroused by the depiction of naked prisoners at a concentration camp. How are grief and shame linked to desire in the novel?

7. Why are Hannah and Simon picked up by the police and deported? While Hannah's family attributes her showing the police the wrong papers to "mind-blowing carelessness," Philippe ascribes a different cause. "Hannah, the perfect mother, had turned into a tragic heroine; the fragile young woman suddenly became a Medea, sacrificing her child and her own life on the altar of her wounded heart." Which version do you find more convincing?

8. Memory is a novel by Philippe Grimbert about a character named Philippe Grimbert, whose life story very closely resembles the author's own. The fictional Philippe uses the facts given to him by Louise to create an imaginary account of his parents' story. Discuss the relationship between truth, fiction, and lies in the novel.

9. How does discovering the truth about his family change Philippe's relationship to his father? What do you think accounts for this change?

10. Both the real and the fictional Philippe become psychoanalysts, largely because of the impact of the experiences described in the novel. How do psychological phenomena such as fantasy, repression, and association help shape the narrative?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Identify the places mentioned in the novel on a map. With the help of the internet, locate key markers such as the line of demarcation.

2. Enrich your discussion with an investigation into Vichy France. Who was President Laval? What role did the French police play in the occupation? What, and where, was "Free France"?

3. Visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum online at www.ushmm.org. The site contains an introduction to the history of the Holocaust and features online exhibits.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Larry Robinson, December 23, 2008 (view all comments by Larry Robinson)
A powerful, fictional memoir of a young boy's discovery about his family's hidden past in World War II Paris. A slim but powerful book.
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Martha J., August 11, 2008 (view all comments by Martha J.)
Memory presents the Holocaust from the prespective of Jews who safely made it to unoccupied France, in the processing providing both a coming of age story and a love story. The author is a psychiatrist who succeeds in portraying the emotional life of the characters in such a believable manner that you believe you are reading biography not fiction. The novel is short and sparse - no extra baggage, every sentence matters. Highly recommended.
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posthumouse, July 11, 2008 (view all comments by posthumouse)
A stunning memoir by the author about his parents who are Holocaust survivors. We are given the somewhat romanticised version from his own boyhood memories then slowly the real story emerges.Powerful and well-written.Winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Wizo(Jewish Interest).
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Product Details

Grimbert, Philippe
Simon & Schuster
McLean, Polly
General Fiction
Publication Date:
February 2008
Grade Level:
7 x 5 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Memory Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 152 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9781416559993 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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