Book review: Interpreters

By Sue Eckstein
Published by Myriad Editions

Author of the acclaimed debut novel The Cloths of Heaven, Sue Eckstein has come back with her second work of fiction, Interpreters. A successful return, I should add.

On opening the book, we read the beginning of a (fictional) magazine article about non-traditional families. In it, Susanna and her uncle Max talk about their household and Susanna’s choice, when she was very young, to move from Africa, where she used to live with her mother, to England, where Max lived in a sort of commune.

It is in this indirect way that we are introduced to Julia Rosenthal, mother of Susanna and sister of Max. It is her that we follow as, on her way to an appointment with a notary, she drives to her childhood home and lets the memories flood back. Spotted by someone she used to know when she was little, she is invited into the house she used to live in. As the morning passes and each room is explored, we learn about her mother, her father and the life she had while growing up, with all its good times as well as the bad.

In her mind, Julia doesn’t only revisit her childhood. She also recalls her life as a young woman and as a young mother. A wronged mother, as she keeps being reminded by the existence of that unread magazine article about what she considers to be a betrayal.

The narrative is interspersed with scripts of what looks like conversations between a woman and her therapist. The woman, unnamed, talks about her difficult childhood in Nazi Germany. Moving with her mother from Amsterdam to Berlin to live with a father who despises her, in a country that rejects her, left deep scars. Who is this woman?

As both Julia’s recollections and the woman’s therapy sessions progress, the pieces of the puzzle come together and secrets are revealed in such a clever way that you just won’t want to stop reading until you reach the end of the book. This is a beautiful and moving story with credible characters that you will quickly warm to. So much so that, despite all the loose ends being perfectly wrapped up by the last page, I would love to read more about this family.

Thank you, once again, to Brighton-based Myriad Editions for bringing a wonderful novel to the public’s attention.


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