The Book of My Mother

Albert Cohen, Author, Bella Cohen, Translator, David Coward, Introduction by Peter Owen Publishers $33.95 (124p) ISBN 978-0-7206-1024-6
Translated by the author's wife almost 50 years after its original French publication, this valediction for the author's mother now appears in English for the first time. Cohen (Belle de Seigneur) begins his memoirs almost reluctantly, telling himself to ""whistle softly to imagine things are not all that bad, and above all smile."" The resulting portrait is of a passionately devoted mother who sold her jewels for her son's spending-money, but also of an outcast, a ""timid child with her over-plump face pressed hungrily against the window of the cake shop of social life."" Cohen is by turns reverential (she was ""a true saint""), embarrassed (""So awkward, poor darling"") and self-pitying (""God loves me so little that I am ashamed for Him""). Although his attitudes toward his dead mother are complex, descriptions of her inner life dwell cartoonishly on motherly devotion: ""Like a good and faithful dog, she accepted her humble fate, which was to wait, alone in my flat and sewing for me."" In this intensely public forum, Cohen seems to be coming to grips with his mother's death through all the typical stages of mourning--numbness, denial, anger, guilt--with pen in hand. Although this process is not without its bouts of melodrama (""O Maman, my youth that is no more!""), other outbursts powerfully reflect a disgust with mortality and a baffled sense of abandonment. Certain phrases (""My mother's love,"" ""Nevermore"") are repeated like incantations, or because, Cohen, says, ""that is what ruminating grief is like, its jaws weakly in perpetual motion."" This is a heartbreaking little volume, worth reading twice. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1998
Release date: 10/01/1997
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