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Review – In My Mother’s House

  “In My Mother’s House”, by Margaret McMullan is a poignant book that leaves us to question the meaning of religion and identity, and question the strength of familial ties.

Before you, before your father, I had another life. Sometimes I feel as though I were another person altogether. I know that what had to do with me, does have something to do with you.”

The intensity of those words echo within the lines and pages of this compelling and well written novel. Generations of women, mothers and daughters, are woven into a tapestry of time and place. Beginning in Austria, the story weaves through England, Mississipi, and Chicago, the threads of relationships often taut and unyielding, as mother and daughter struggle to find their identities.

Genevieve, the mother, and Jenny, the daughter, both lived in Austria before World War II, and both escaped from Austria. Wiith that escape, Genevieve leaves behind her sense of Self, her identity, in order for her and her daughter to reinvent themselves in a new country.

But, the past never leaves, and it remains as a constant, as the quilt of time appears, pieces sewn together, as stories are told from both perspective. McMullan infuses the historical aspect, with every life detail, in a brilliantly written novel. It is written so explicitly, that we visualize what life was like, as McMullan’s prose cuts through our senses, each one becoming alive with the scents, sounds, sights, tastes and touches of Austria, before its collapse.

Genevieve constantly struggles to shield her daughter from the past, but Jenny constantly strives to find out about the past, and comes closer with each step to her Jewish ancestry, even going so far as to convert to Judaism. Every fiber of her being searches for her identity, and every fiber of Genevieve’s being tries to surpress her past, in order to forget the familial horrors. Time sometimes changes things, but most often, it doesn’t, the past lingers on…in our minds and emotions.

They are mother and daughter, yet their lives are parallel, and McMullan’s use of alternating chapters reinforces and strengthens that theory. A mother tries to close the gap in time’s fabric by silence, a daughter tries to open the tight stitch work through constant questions and research.

This is a book about familial ties, feeling connected, and a book about self-identity, assimilation, and redemption. I recommend this well-written achievement to everyone who is trying to understand war, and its effects on family connections, before, during and after-the-fact. “In My Mother’s House” is compelling, and Margaret McMullan takes us back through time, into one of history’s darkest periods, with sensitivity, excellence, and with insight into the human condition under extreme adversity.

I personally own, and have read, this book.
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