Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Review of Interpreters by Sue Eckstein

There is much that will resonate with families who've experienced difficult relationships in Sue Eckstein’s stunning new novel Interpreters. 

Family relationships are often the hardest to interpret, because our experiences as children will be based on the experiences that our parents have had during their lives. 

Each experience will be unique and no family member will interpret their experience of the same event or person in the same way.

Childhood is about survival in a world full of adults who make the best decisions they can at the time. 

Becoming an adult means that you take responsibility for making the best decisions that you can at the time, based on your knowledge and experience to date. 

The wonderful thing about adulthood is that you can expand that knowledge. 

You can choose whether to remain stuck in a place that feels safe but uncomfortable, or you can choose to change and  grow. 

This, to me, is the theme running through Interpreters. 

Julia and Max's childhood is one of unsettling uncertainty due to having a mother who feels an enormous amount of misplaced shame. 

She has never shared who she really is with her family and the weight of her secret has had a profound impact on her relationships with her children.

Julia, the daughter, is written in the first person. She has a breezy, humorous tone that belies the pain she feels. 

A few pages into the novel it’s quickly established that Julia has a deep sense of responsibility for her mum, a need to protect her ‘from a hostile world’. 

Her mother’s inability to open up drives Julia to be too open with her own daughter, Susanna; demanding that there should be no secrets between them. This is proves to be equally damaging to their relationship.

Max, the son and Julia’s brother, is the mediator in the family. He’s the one who sees both sides of a discussion but remains neutral territory. 

Max is as patient as Julia is impatient. He too feels a sense of responsibility for damaged souls, and devotes his life to fostering difficult children.  

Their mother’s secret is revealed through a series of sensitive and realistic counselling sessions. At first their mother is defensive and sarcastic in each session, then gradually the periods of (SILENCE) from a non-judgemental listener enable her to open up and share a rarely spoken about experience of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

There are many deceptively simple yet emotionally powerful moments in this novel that express their mother’s deep sense of pain, and the confusion that her unwillingness to talk about it creates in her family. 

One that sticks in the memory is a scene where their mother talks to the counsellor about the abuse she suffered as a child, when she speaks about being beaten by her father if all the fringing on the Turkish carpet in his study wasn’t combed straight. 

Later on in the novel, Julia, who humorously details her compulsive need to be tidy, describes how she can’t understand why her mother grimaces when she finds her painstakingly combing out the fringes of the sitting room rug with her fingers.

This sensitively written, beautifully observed novel explores the damage that can be inadvertently inflicted within families when the secrets of the past have a hold over the present. 

It also explores how reinterpreting the past can help families break those destructive patterns of relating to each other, giving themselves and the next generation an opportunity to develop better relationships in the future.

Publisher: Myriad Editions
With thanks to Myriad Editions for the review copy

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