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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345507347, Hardcover)Marlena de Blasi on Amandine
Childhood, beginning with that swim down the straits of the birth canal, is made of at least as much despair as joy. And, as we know, things don’t change all that much over time. Bittersweet is as fine a flavor as life can have at any age. And so are we, all of us, victims? Though arguably entitled to it, Amandine never claims that status. A Candide-esque character tinged with shades of St. Theresa the Little Flower and Forrest Gump, she’s fresh and unpredictable and of an ineffable courage.
Cast from fragments of the lives and times of people I have known, people I know--not the least of which is me, myself--Amandine is a composite. One--perhaps the single--motive for this leap from narrative non-fiction to wander the greater mine-scattered, tall-grassed fields of fiction was the hope that Amandine would resonate a scene or two from a reader’s own early despair, perplexity. Sufferance. That there would grow up from Amandine’s story some other small if wavering light by which the reader might look at these. A presumptuous notion in this literary and societal moment when tales--perceived, invented or real--of hideous childhoods and their lingering detritus are the stuff of readers’ choice. Crisp, dry wood to rouse a victim’s fire. But, as I’ve said, Amandine declines the shorn lamb category. Rather she consents. Not as passive a strategy as one might imagine for, in the quiet space of that consent, she examines, reasons, heals. Is she wise beyond her years? I don’t think so. (Virgin and unfettered, the instinctive capacity for wisdom is greatest in a child. Older and wiser rings true if only rarely. Life itself seems to erode early wisdom, redressing it as cynicism and diffidence. Sometimes we remain wise but I don’t think we can aspire to wisdom.) But let me introduce Amandine to you via an excerpt from a letter which she wrote when she was eight years old to her mother, the mother whose name she didn’t know, whom she’d never seen or heard, whose whereabouts were a mystery. The mother who believed her baby had died.
You don’t know me. I mean we haven’t met. Actually we did meet but it was when I was very little and I think you were very little, too. I just thought that you might be missing me, wanting to know about me. I didn’t want you to worry and so I thought I would write to you to tell you that I’m fine. I’m well. My name is Amandine. I’m your daughter.
I’m almost eight and I have dark hair, curly and long and mostly all the time woven into plaits by sister Genévieve. Solange used to make my plaits when I was little but now that I live in the dormitory, sister Genévieve does. Solange is like a big sister and an aunt and a teacher but mostly she is my best friend. After you and Jesus, I love Solange best. And Phillipe, too. I shall tell you of Phillipe when I see you. His grandmother had blue hair.
I can never quite tell the color of my eyes which seems to change. It’s something like gray but very dark and almost blue like the sky looks at night. But not exactly. Solange says they’re the color of the inside of an iris, the color deep inside. But not exactly that, either. I’m not big and I’m not small for eight. Well maybe I am a bit small.
I can read with the sixth elementary students and know my multiplication tables and I love to write stories and read about princesses and saints but mostly about princesses. I love to listen to Solange when she tells me stories. She says they’re the same stories that her mother told her. She has a mother, too. And a father and a grandmother and sisters. I think she has 18 cousins. Do you have cousins? I mean if you have cousins, then they are my cousins, too. Would you tell me someday about my cousins? I imagine that their names are Susie and Jeannette and Christine and Diane. I don’t know too many boys' names so I only think about girl cousins. Do I have a grandmother? I hope she’s well, not growing too old before I can get to her to tell her how much I love her. Tell her please that I say prayers for her and that I will come to help her when she’s old. Tell her not to worry because as soon as I find her, I won’t leave ever leave her again. Actually I don’t know why I went away. I can’t remember. Can you remember, maman?....
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:57 -0400)
Krakow, 1931. A baby girl is born out of wedlock, and deposited at a remote convent in the French countryside. Amandine is raised by her governess, Solange. As global war looms, the two flee toward Solange's childhood home, and begin a perilous, years-long odyssey across Occupied France-- and deeper into the treacheries of war.
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