The Canadian narrator, Marie, is in a Paris archive, reading and translating excerpts from the diary of the Jewish mother of Marcel Proust. The entries cover the period from 1890 to 1905. Mme. Proust and her physician husband make excuses for their son's lax behavior, and they worry over his chronic asthma, his social agenda, his apparent lack of interest in women, and his risky future as a writer. Like the entire country, the Proust family divides over the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair. Later, Mme. Proust writes of her own illness with cancer.

Nearly half a century later, young Sophie Bensimon is sent to safety in Canada from France by her Jewish parents who were never heard from again. In reaction to this loss, Sophie walls herself from emotional expression. Her childless, adoptive parents, the Plots, have difficulty understanding her return to France to search for evidence of her birth parents' demise. She too must cope with archives, papers, and bureaucracy, but she discovers some details of their fate at Auschwitz. She marries a doctor, keeps a kosher kitchen, and worries over every minor event in the life of her son, Max.

As Marie struggles against a pressing deadline to research and translate without reinterpretation, she is aware that her choices will inevitably skew her findings. With this work, she imposes herself, her tastes and her needs on another woman's past. And she remembers her passionate love for Max whose genuine fondness for her finds no sexual expression because he, like Marcel Proust, prefers men.


A skein of three intertwined stories, separated in time and place, touch on mother-son relationships, anti-Semitism, displaced identity, and the problems of communication.

Compelling use of history from Proust's biography, the Dreyfus affair, and the Holocaust, combined with a sophisticated understanding of the nature of archival research, makes this sumptuous first novel a remarkable achievement. The voice changes often from first-person to third; with each change of tale comes a change of type font. Proust's many attacks of asthma, as described by his anxious mother; the relationships of homosexual men with women; and the experience of doctors' wives are recurrent themes relevant to users of this database.

The author was born in France to a diplomatic family and is an award-winning journalist who specializes in arts reviews.



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