In My Mother’s House: Amanda Heller

This graceful, melancholy novel takes the form of parallel mother-daughter monologues that, significantly, never meet. The friction between the two women derives from a dispute over a family legacy — not a material legacy, like the ornately crested silver that has followed the mother from Europe to America and will one day be the daughter’s, but a legacy of truth. As a girl, Genevieve, now called Jenny, grew up in Vienna in a setting of privilege and cultivation. What she did not know until the Nazi takeover sent her family fleeing for their lives was that her parents were Jews who had become Catholic converts in the vain hope of keeping the wolf of anti-Semitism from the door. The trauma of this discovery, and the privations of life as a refugee, have caused Jenny to cloak her past in bitter silence, a silence her daughter feels as a withholding of love — and has the neuroses to prove it. Jenny’s narrative, in particular, is haunting, as her early memories of a charmed life acquire a darker coloration. The global catastrophe of the Nazi era we know about. It is the individual, private pain it caused that is skillfully given voice here by Margaret McMullan.