December 29, 2011


by Sue Eckstein
214 pages, Myriad

Review by Pat Black

It’s weird going back to your hometown; weirder still to go back to the house you used to live in when there’s another family in there. This is what happens to Julia Rosenthal, the narrator of Interpreters, Sue Eckstein’s second novel, when she takes a trip back to the place she grew up in with her brother Max.

There’s family history to be examined in this story. As Julia looks in each room she sees them as they once looked in the time when she grew up while her mother and father’s marriage foundered. It’s a book concerned with the past as well as the future, and the intricate structures and relationships that make up a life – so we also get a flavour of what happens with Julia’s free-spirited daughter Susanna, and her odd decision to grow up under the care of her Uncle Max, a Steiner teacher.

As well as the recollections of family life – from one beautiful moment where Mrs Rosenthal almost begins an affair with a music teacher, through to the moment where the father changes from a bumbling drunk to a loving father in the reader’s eyes – there are transcripts of psychoanalytical conversations in the text. These turn out to be from the grandmother of the Rosenthal clan, covering her time growing up in Germany before, during and after the war. Her ordeals serve to put our modern day tensions and problems in their proper context.

For me, the great beauty of this short, but complex book was that odd sensation you sometimes get at family gatherings where you spot little correlations between family members often generations apart, whether they’ve met each other before or not. And it’ll make you think of the strange forces, characteristics and attractions that led you to be exactly where you are right now.

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