from Nick DiMartino Shelf Awareness -- a review of Book of My Mother
Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen, translated by Bella Cohen (Archipelago Books, $15, 9781935744337, April 24 release)
Behind the high-blown, overwrought classical French style of this little classic from 1954 lurks an inconsolable son grieving over his mother’s death. “My mother had no me. She had a son,” says Albert Cohen, and the subject of his bittersweet Book of My Mother is in some ways the stereotypical Jewish mother, urging her son to go to synagogue once in a while just for her, suggesting some nice, quiet girls that the Rabbi recommends, quizzing her son if he’s been eating the Unmentionable (translation: pork), then stopping him from answering, “Don’t tell me – I don’t want to know.”
Though laughter and drolleries ripple through this little elegy, behind it burns the aching, unhealing regret of her son for every careless selfishness or neglect. Albert Cohen at the age of five came to Marseilles from the Greek island of Corfu, grew up in France, and ultimately became a Swiss citizen, living in Geneva, where his mother visited him until her death. Strangely intimate, playfully classical, his little book is Cohen’s therapy and its creation his comfort in the face of her loss, the healing joy in the act of writing.
The utter sweetness of his recorded memories is somehow a result of the exquisite sadness behind the words, the finality of their permanent separation. That anything so sad can also be witty and sublimely comic makes Mrs Cohen into a triumph of literature – with her curly hair, large nose, small hat, swollen ankles, and magnificent eyes. – Nick DiMartino, Nick’s Picks, University Book Store, Seattle