An autobiography of author Marina Jarre, based in her native Latvia during the 1920s and 30s and expanding southward to the Italian countryside. Jarre depicts a multinational and complicated family: her elusive, handsome father, her severe, cultured mother, and her sister and Latvian grandparents.
A memoir that shuns linear chronology in favor of personal and historical musings, from sibling rivalries to the Easter Massacre ... Although written in lucid, luminous prose, much of the book implies rather than states ... The book demands a...commitment to perpetual rereading and a willingness to leave mysteries unresolved ... Her book is itself in many ways a sealed letter. We can sense something important inside the envelope, but we never get to learn exactly what that is ... [There are] many points of luminescence scattered like seashells through Jarre’s verbal littoral ... As irruptions into the void formed by the memoir’s elliptical narrative, however, they create a pointillist effect, requiring an active viewer to make sense of the radiant light show. Marina Jarre’s struggle to find fitting words flashes through the murk.
Jarre’s discussion of these events offers her an opportunity to describe the ways the forces of history intersected with that of her own family. The most important aspect of the memoir, however, is how it recaps the relationships—which are often strained – with the women in Jarre’s life. And of all the women in her life, her mother loomed the largest. That would be true of most people but in Jarre’s case, the memoir could be read as a catalog of how she disappointed her mother, how she failed to live up to her mother’s expectations, and how her mother spelled this out at every turn ... Jarre switches between present- and the past-tense narration while she recounts the salient moments of her long life ... This can make for rather disjointed reading. At times, the reader may wish Jarre chose a straight narrative line and followed it. But the jagged feel this gives to the work is particularly apt for the way it meshes with Jarre’s character, especially when she tells candid stories about herself and her failings ... If the reader is up to it, treasures await in this work. Jarre’s English-language debut is a story of an unforgettable life full of heartbreaking moments, and the author honors the genre of memoir by presenting her life and herself truthfully, warts and all.
Playing with tenses and their grammatical suggestions, Jarre invokes ideas of immediacy and the feeling of ungrounded footing; and childhood is portrayed as a time of vulnerability because of its reliance on adults. Jarre obsesses over rules and their promise of stability, even though she struggles to follow them herself ... For Jarre, reentering childhood through motherhood is a change in course suggested by the experience of pregnancy, a state of dual existenc— the bodies of adult mother and child fetus combined. Jarre discards meaning and rembraces sensation as the predominant way to experience existence, which needn’t suggest any one thing nor illuminate an event to find its importance. Jarre finds the spectacular of living a life within the sensation of time moving around an individual.