Monday, 27 June 2016
Her Father's Daughter by Marie Sizun
review by Maryom
In German-occupied Paris, four year old France lives happily with her mother. Her world is made up of the two of them, their apartment, the streets and park close by, and occasional visits from her grandmother. She knows little of the world outside - of the war, of why there are Germans patrolling the streets, or of her father, detained far away as a prisoner.
But now, this unknown father is coming home, and France's world is going to change.
At first she's fearful of this man who's come between her and her mother, but then she decides to win him over, sharing her thoughts, stories and secrets, little understanding the implications of what she shares, or the likely fall-out from it.
Her Father's Daughter is a moving account of the relationship between a father and child, and an exploration of family dynamics - made all the more poignant by being based on the author's own experience as a child.
It's written, although not in the first person, from the child's point of view. The reader can easily see that France doesn't always understand what she sees or hears going on around her, and often interprets events in a confused childish way, but it still captures the child's attachment to her mother, her initial hostility to the man that comes between them, then the switching of sides as her father becomes the main recipient of her affection.
At the same time, the reader can understand why the mother has maybe indulged her little girl too much, but now wants to focus her attention on her returned husband, and why he, in his turn, feels odd and uncomfortable around this unknown child, and furious when the 'lie' is revealed.
Till the age of four, France's world has been comprised almost entirely of herself and her mother. Her life is happy and undisciplined - scrawling on the walls, singing strange songs she makes up herself, picking and choosing over her food, dictating what her mother wears. It's a life of freedom and fun, till her father comes home. A "father" is an unknown quantity to France - in their neighbourhood, fathers are mostly absent due to the war, and she can find them only in fairy tales, often vague but stern characters. When he arrives, her father wants order and quiet, not a child singing, stomping and generally doing as she likes - it's a shock to France! She also feels she's losing her mother's love, as she understandably turns her attention to her returned husband. But the dynamics of their relationships change, as France and her father grow closer, and the mother is pushed aside. I wondered how much France actually understood of the great 'lie' she wanted to expose - a four year old surely wouldn't have understood the full implications, but she certainly knew she should not mention it, and that revealing the secret would cause trouble. So, did she merely mean to share with her father something she considered very personal, or deliberately set out to cause trouble? I'm not sure.
For a long while I've championed one of Peirene's early publications, Friedrich Christian Delius' Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman as my favourite of their books - but I think it may now have a rival.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction