In her customary elliptical style, novelist/essayist Sarraute sets down memories of her childhood--a childhood that was the very soul of instability. Born (1900) in Russia to an anti-Tsarist Jewish father and a distant (to put it mildly), intellectual mother, Nathalie moves to Paris with her father when the parents divorce: she is two. From then on, she will shuttle endlessly: Paris to St. Petersburg (where her mother now lives with new husband Kolya, a writer) and back to Paris. School brings some joys (a fine few pages on discovering vocabulary as a tool of knowledge)--but these are neatly checked by Nathalie's unsureness about high-strung stepmother Vera's affections. The central trauma, giving off reflective rays, remains the child's well-founded suspicion that her natural mother was too busy, too selfish, too impatient to love her daughter. And with it come small, devastating counter-rejections: Nathalie almost collapses with shame and relief when one day she thinks, unbidden, that a doll she owns is prettier than her mother. Though broken-up and blunted by a self-interrogating framework, the story is a continually harrowing one--of grasping for faith in love and rarely touching it. Brittle in the telling, yet clutching.