Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France

Title:  A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France
Author:  Miranda Richmond Mouillot
Publication Information:  Crown. 2015. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0804140642 / 978-0804140645

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the ten years it took to write everything down, my grandmother died and my grandfather lost his mind."

Favorite Quote:  "All that is in the past. You have to live your live forward."

The author's note to this book begins, "A Fifty-Year Silence is a true story, but it is a work of memory, not a work of history." Whose history and whose memories? The author Miranda Richmond Mouillot grew up knowing her grandmother and having briefly met her grandfather. Her grandmother was a part of the author's life as she grew up. Her grandfather lived in Geneva and was not often part of the author's life. As a young child, Miranda did not even associate the two of them together because they never spoke or saw each other again after their separation.

As she grew up, she learned bits and pieces of their story - their relationship, their survival through the Holocaust, and their complete and total separation after. She puzzled over the story and set out to discover more. She moved to Europe and spent much time researching their history. This is the history she attempts to reconstructs in this book.

What happens to her grandparents' marriage is and is not related to the war. Extreme circumstances can cause families to draw closer or drift apart, and their circumstances were about as extreme as circumstances can get. However, the way their personalities are described points to other causes for the separation as well. Even if the war hadn't happened, would her grandmother have left anyways? Would the marriage have survived or were the incompatibilities too great for it survive under any circumstances?

This book is really the author's story. As a child, she suffered from fears and nightmares related to her grandparent's experiences in the Holocaust decades earlier. It's understandable for family history to be passed down and for events to be remembered, but for it to cause fear...Why? The book never explains, and the book never discusses why no adult in her life ever addressed that.

She barely knows her grandfather, but at age fourteen, she is sent off to visit him alone. Why especially since he was known to be difficult and she suffered from anxiety? The book's only explanation, "What can I say? The vicissitudes of my family's fortunes means there weren't many of us left; he was the only grandfather I had." An insufficient explanation.

I wanted to like this book. I really did, out of respect for her grandparents and for what they went through and out of respect for all those affected by the Holocaust. This book, however, seems much more the author's journey of discovery than her grandparents' story. I don't know that I completely understand it. Why did the author experience fears and nightmares related to her grandparents' experiences fifty years earlier? What details did the adults share with the author as a child and why? Why was it so important for the author to understand the history of her grandparents' marriage? What compelled her to research in such detail? As the back cover copy says, she "abandons her plans for the future and moves to their stone house, now a crumbling ruin..." Why was the need to know so great? Even taking this book as the author's story, it leaves unanswered questions about her motivations and emotions.

Still so many unanswered questions. Perhaps, those questions are the purpose of the book. It seems almost therapeutic in nature. It seems to want to logic through and find concrete answers where none truly exist. That explains the journal approach to the writing and why it seems more the author's story. It leaves me unsatisfied and puzzled as a reader.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. I was all set to fall in love with this book based on the history and the story but thank you, I'll move on to something better!

    1. Rena, I completely agree. I too was set to really enjoy the book based on the description.