In this sharply drawn chronicle of grief, a woman reassembles her identity through her father’s art and her brother’s tenuous offer of a new life.
After her husband and 8-year-old daughter are killed in a car accident, Emma collapses. Nothing matters anymore—not her friends, not her home, not her carefully constructed life as a professor of creative writing. But then Aunt Zinnia drops another bombshell: Emma was adopted. Spontaneously, Emma catches the train for New York, hoping her former nanny, Apolline, has some answers. Apolline reveals that Emma’s parents were a beautiful French communist named Sophie-Anne and the renowned Russian silent film star Ivan Mosjoukine. Doubting that Mosjoukine could really be her father (after all, he allegedly died 10 years before her birth), Emma cannot so easily dismiss the evidence in the mirror: She has his burning blue eyes. She sets off for Paris, but instead of finding her mother, she finds her twin brother, Ilya, living in a nearly forgotten, nearly impossible-to-find house. Across the street, his neighbor sits outside every day, scowling and selling drugs to overworked physicians. Delighted to see Emma (whom he remembers as Vera), Ilya has his own demons, including the father who abandoned him, the mother who gave his twin sister away, and the tragic consequences of his ex-wife’s addiction. Emma intensifies her search for their father, discovering a chameleon of a man. And as she watches Mosjoukine’s old films, she sees reflections of their family saga. Much like a silent movie, Emma’s quest is composed of beautifully limned gestures and vividly sketched characters against the backdrops of contemporary and post–World War II Paris.
Kercheval (Brazil, 2010, etc.) delves deeply into the rawest of emotions and the most wrenching of choices, richly detailing each twist and turn with grace.