cover image W or Memory of Childhood

W or Memory of Childhood

Georges Perec. David R. Godine Publisher, $16.95 (164pp) ISBN 978-0-87923-756-1

Exploring a single letter was one among many devices used by Perec ( Life: A User's Manual ), known for his verbal feats. ``W'' (pronounced in French double-ve ) suggests the double sorrow (the poetic Weh in German) arising from the parallel and interlaced narratives of this quasi-autobiographical novel. Born in Paris of Jewish emigre parents who were killed when he was a child, Perec actually had ``no childhood memories,'' and so invented a personal past based on photographs and the testimony of relatives. The novel alternates a straightforward account of childhood with an imagined journey to a fiendish utopia, i.e., Nazi Germany, whose criminal ideal of Olympic Sport controls every act. Boys train as athletes, while girls become handmaids and, in the big playoff, the champions' rape victims. The regime's mirror-image is found in the Nazi's organized death camps. Common threads link the novel's two narratives. Perec's schooldays evoke the athletes' horrifying education. ``W'' is the name of the Olympic police state; ``W'' recurs in the herringbone pattern of Perec's skis, and when repeated and re-aligned forms a Star of David. The writer's search for identity within a historic nightmare provides a moving and important memoir. (Nov.)