DEAR DEPARTED by Marguerite Yourcenar


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Yourcenar's re-creation of her ancestors' lives in 19th- and 20th-century Belgium, published in France in 1974, is unlikely to appeal to many American readers as it fails to relate directly to the experience of the late French Academy member (1903-87), author of Two Lives and a Dream, 1987; Mishima, 1986, etc. Opening with the Zen koan ""What did your face look like before your father and mother met?,"" the 70-year-old Yourcenar attempts to unearth the seeds of her being in the lives of her parents and ancestors, most of whom she never knew. The only child of an upper-class Belgian woman who died shortly after giving birth, and the second child of a French landowner with a strong peripatetic bent, Yourcenar grew up largely ignorant of the passions and tragedies that had set the growth of the family tree before her. Here, she unearths tales of Great-uncle Octave, a florid poet on her mother's side who spent his adult life mourning the suicide of his passionately political brother, Remo; of Aunt Jeanne, her mother's handicapped and unmarried sister who lived out a cold, aristocratic life with her German maid in a town house in Brussels; of Yourcenar's mother, Fernande, groomed for marriage yet unloved until her 31st year; and of a long line of upper-class Belgians who feared and scorned the neighboring French Revolution, negotiated shrewdly with tenant farmers, and wandered restlessly across the Continent while the beauty and security of their moneyed existence faded in the face of treeless landscapes and divided estates. Yourcenar intertwines these intricately imagined lives with issues in European thought and politics that will strike many as arcane--making this one of her less interesting works, though two follow-up volumes have yet to be published here.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"