Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorjan

Johanna Adorjan 
Johanna Adorjan
Photo Credit: Peter von Felbert

An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorján

“On 13 October 1991 my grandparents killed themselves,” the first sentence of An Exclusive Love, a memoir by Johanna Adorján grabs the reader and does not let go until the end. Reported without emotion - but not without beauty - as a news reporter does best, (Adorján is a cultural journalist), the reader immediately knows the ending but not the infinitesimal details, so worth paying attention to, of the path that leads one there.

Shocking to the reader, still reeling from the harsh beginning, is presented succinctly but no less forceful when Adorján recounts the final entry in the official folder of the suicide.  One last punch before book closes is from the Danish police file is the bill from the locksmith who opened the door of her grandparents’ home - $297 kroner.  The reader sees the door open and imagines the scene beyond it.

Grandparents are an enigma.  The tales they tell are often about our parents when they were young as if the near past was more important than decades that came before.  In An Exclusive Love we are privy to not only the author’s memories but also the intimate thoughts of people from each stage of her grandparents’ (Vera and Istvan) life.

The recent passing of Dr. Jack Kevorkian evokes the polarizing discussion of “death with dignity.”  Some called him “Dr. Death” and opposed his methods.  Some called him the “angel of mercy.”  The Federal Government has recused itself from the conversation and handed the reins to each state to determine if and when assisted suicide is legal.  A private matter and a private choice, Vera and Istvan did not ask permission from anyone but each other.

An Exclusive Love is a painful and engrossing detail of the day that Adorján’s grandparents acted on their suicide pact.  Throughout the memoir, the author stays gently in the background allowing her grandparents their contemporaries and family members to re-construct the days, hours, and minutes leading up to their mutual suicide in 1991.  Timing is everything and Adorján graciously inserts herself into the story calling forth her conversations and experiences with her beloved, mysterious forbears.

In the early 90s the Hemlock Society was operating covertly in the United States and its book, Final Exit was impossible to find except via the Internet.  Founded in 1980 by Derek Humphry, The Hemlock Society’s mission was to help people like his wife Jean and reform the laws about doctor-assisted suicide.

Aware of the book, Vera locates it, reads it and the suicide pact is in place.  Planned and painless at the end, quietly so that nobody would attempt to intervene, Vera and Istvan slip into the next realm together as they have been for decades.

A graceful shift into dialogue between her grandparents on the Sunday morning that is the focal point of the story shows a couple who have lived with and loved each for 50 years.  They survived the Holocaust and reconstructed their life – not obliterating the past - once settled in Copenhagen.

“She goes into the kitchen to wash the ashtrays she has collected from the guestroom and the front hall.  Everything must be neat and tidy.  She doesn’t want to cause any hassle.  No one must find her decision a nuisance.”  The grandmother’s internal dialogue continues to rend the readers’ heart.

Page after page the reader finds another snapshot of the day that causes tears to flood the page.  “You must say goodbye to each other now,” says Adorján’s grandmother.  The grandfather holding Mitzi, their dog, kisses her nose, strokes her head and squeaks out goodbye.

The beauty of An Exclusive Love is the twofold – the memory of the event and the words carefully selected to convey it.  In the tradition of Joan Didion’s 2007 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, this intensely personal telling of exceptional love and loss is one to read over an over again reminding us why we read.  To find ourselves through the stories of others, find out why we are here and what we ultimately want for ourselves.

Adorján resides in Berlin and is an editor of the Allegemeine Zeitung’s culture section.  An Exclusive Love is her first book.  Based in the U.K., Anthea Bell is an award-winning translator of a range of work including W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke.
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Monday, September 12, 2011


ForeWord Review
C.V. Smith's protagonist in her novel Nettie Parker's Backyard breaks with traditional book format, creating a three-dimensional adventure wherein she invites the reader directly into her story: "Why don't you meet me there?" asks Halley. The second-person narration is one of the literary devices that Smith handles deftly throughout her book about intolerance throughout history, whether by race, religion, or disability.
The novel's message cuts a wide swath, taking events from a global perspective to the personal experience of the heroine, Halley's elderly neighbor, Nettie Parker. Shifting from Halley's point of view to Aunt Nettie's, the novel reaches back in time to the Middle Passage, the Holocaust, segregation in the US, and more. All are recounted in Nettie's calm voice during an interview she gives to Halley for a history project.
The Middle Passage, as presented by Nettie, is a compelling and accurate history, relating the capture of Africans and the horrific conditions of the boats carrying them to the United States where they were sold into slavery. The details of this first leg of indentured servitude are not soft-pedaled for the young reader.
Segregation on the scale it once existed is incomprehensible to young people today. Nettie, exposes the reader to Martin Luther King, Jr. and other well-known events not well known to those born before the 1970s. Swinging back to the personal, Nettie tells Halley's class of the humiliation she and her mother experienced during their annual shopping trip to Beaufort, South Carolina.
Nettie also speaks of her husband, Jonas, to focus on the history of the Tuskegee soldiers. Her telling illustrates that African-Americans were obviously deemed fit to fight in World War II, but nonetheless did not reap the benefits of white soldiers.
The novel continues to peel the layers of history from the horrors of the Holocaust to the celebration of Bar Mitzvah, a rite of passage for thirteen-year old Jewish children. Nettie's stories about prejudice go beyond racism to detail the sub-standard treatment of physically challenged people.
"I wrote this book for children aged nine to twelve, the time when one questions everything," says Smith. An educator for thirty years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, she worked with ESL and Special Education students and authored Stuff, an anthology of rap, poetry, and prose for children in crisis.
Dindy Yokel

Are you there Ms. Blume? It's me, Dindy. | Dindy Yokel | Blog Post | Red Room

Are you there Ms. Blume? It's me, Dindy. | Dindy Yokel | Blog Post | Red Room

where the writers are
Are you there Ms. Blume? It's me, Dindy.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Are you there Ms. Blume? It's me, Dindy.

Margaret Simon and I have been friends for 36 years since Mrs. Feldman, the librarian at the now-defunct John F. Kennedy Elementary School, introduced us. I connected with Margaret, the glorious girl that you created and she showed me that I wasn't alone. It clicked at that moment, I would be a writer and repay the kindness (pay it forward in hackneyed parlance).

Reading was (and is) my refuge, the perfect hiding place for a shy girl who was the first in sixth grade to get her period. How the entire grade found out I will never know, but news like this travels fast. Margaret was the gentle friend I needed at the time.

You made me laugh and cry, you gave me a friend and you gave me a career. For decades I have given your books, particularly "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," as gifts to young women who need a respite from the crazy, super sonic world. It is still one of my favorite gifts to give.

Ms. Blume, you inspired me to read and keep reading, to write and keep writing and I know you inspire those who I introduce to you and your creations.

Thank you for giving birth to Margaret and so many other realistic, hilarious and wise characters and stories.

Love, Dindy