cover image The Only Girl in the World

The Only Girl in the World

Maude Julien, with Ursula Gauthier, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. Little, Brown, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-46662-2

Julien writes of growing up in a family of survivalists in a town outside of Dunkirk, France, in this harrowing memoir. Born in 1957, Julien, now a psychotherapist living in Paris, was locked away from the world for over a decade starting at age three. During this time, Julien’s days were meticulously scheduled. Her mother became her sole teacher; she lived in a dark cellar to “meditate on death”; her father made her hold onto electric fences in order to strengthen her willpower. She rarely came into physical contact with anyone besides her parents, and the only sense of love and companionship she felt was for her two pets—her dog, Linda, and her horse, Arthur. Her father claimed superpowers, even the ability to read minds. As she grew older, Julien alternated between fear and resistance, realizing that her father might just be a “friendless, loveless man, who never gives or receives any kindness.” It was only at age 16 that she was able to leave the family compound in order to take her state school exams. The following year, she was allowed to take a train to Dunkirk to study music, and it was only then that she realized she could break away from her parents. This is a dark, moving, and thoughtfully rendered story. (Dec.)