Canadian born Huston (Dolce Agonia, 2001, etc.) won the Prix Femina in France for this novel, which traces four generations of a family while examining how unshared secrets shape each succeeding/preceding generation.
In California in 2004, six-year-old Sol, a brilliant, spoiled brat, attends a Protestant church as a compromise between his Catholic-born mother, Tessa, and Jewish-raised father, Randall. After surgery more or less removes the birthmark Sol inherited from Randall, Sol’s grandmother Sadie orchestrates a trip to Munich with the whole family, including Sol’s German-born great-grandmother Erra. The trip is not a success. Flash back to 1982 when six-year-old Randall, also brilliant but more sweet-natured than Sol, basks in the love of his father, a Jewish playwright in his 40s, and desperately tries to please his 26-year-old mother Sadie, a tense perfectionist. Randall loves the year he lives with his parents in Israel while Sadie, a graduate student of the Holocaust and recent convert to Judaism, does research. Then public and personal disasters conflate: Shortly after a controversial Israeli-backed massacre in Lebanon, a car accident leaves Sadie permanently crippled. In 1962, lonely six-year-old Sadie must live with her stern Canadian grandparents while her bohemian unwed mother Kristina finds herself. Sadie, who considers the birthmark on her bottom “dirty,” is overjoyed when Kristina, who has changed her name to Erra, marries the kindly Jewish manager of her burgeoning musical career and brings Sadie to live with them. Then a strange foreign man shows up and shatters Sadie’s fragile security. In 1944, Kristina considers herself the adored youngest daughter of a solid German family until her older “brother” explains that, like him, she was stolen by the Nazis from her real parents, and the two forge a secret bond. After liberation, Kristina is adopted by Canadian parents. To keep her “brother” close, she names her birthmark after him.
An elegant if overly manipulated structural design parallels the insightful but overly simplified psychological evolution of vulnerable children (excepting demon Sol) into reactive adults.