Friday, July 25, 2014
ALL I LOVE AND KNOW
By Judith Frank
William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers
The trigger to “All I Love and Know,” the new novel by Judith Frank, could have sprung from today’s headlines. Matt and Daniel, a gay couple living in Northampton, are devastated to learn that Daniel’s twin brother, Joel, and Joel’s wife, Ilana, have been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem. Joel and Ilana, Israeli citizens, have also left behind two young children: 6-year-old Gal and her baby brother, Noam.
It soon becomes clear from Joel and Ilana’s will that they wanted Daniel to become their children’s guardians. Now Daniel and Matt — men of different backgrounds and ages who have still managed to make their relationship work — are suddenly faced with the overwhelming prospect of becoming parents, an experience that will come to strike at the heart of their partnership, even as David continues to grieve for his brother.
Frank, who lives in Northampton and is a professor of English at Amherst College, draws on her knowledge of the area and the gay and lesbian community to sketch realistic portraits of her characters and their life in Northampton. Matt, the younger of the two men, is used to getting by on his charm and good looks, and he’s not sure he’s ready to handle fatherhood. He’s also never really been welcomed by Daniel’s parents.
Yet Daniel seems so broken by grief that Matt must take the lead in trying to get Gal, in particular, past her terrible loss and her disorientation in coming to America. She’s a volatile girl who acts out her anger and sorrow in multiple settings. When Matt takes her to a department store to buy school supplies, she rejects the lunch box he suggests for her, screaming at him and tearing at his arm with her fingernails.
Then Daniel, in an interview for an article by a local newspaper about how he and Matt have come to take care of the children, expresses some sympathy for the Palestinian cause. The story is picked up by the Associated Press, then the Boston Globe, after which Daniel, the editor of a college magazine, begins to get angry mail from some Jewish readers. That in turn leads to even more tension with Matt — and it’s not clear if their relationship will survive.
Frank, author of the 2004 novel, “Crybaby Butch,” lived in Israel as a teenager and young woman, and her experience helps inform the new book’s theme of cultural dislocation and the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian struggle — as well as the views of American Jews on that subject. As she says in an interview about the book, “In the U.S. we tend to separate the category of ‘the political’ — but the truth is, we live in the political with our bodies, minds and hearts.”
Judith Frank will read from and sign copies of “All I Love and Know” July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.
DIARY OF THE DARK YEARS, 1940-1944: COLLABORATION, RESISTANCE, AND DAILY LIFE IN OCCUPIED FRANCE
By Jean Guéhenno
Translated and annotated by David Ball
Oxford University Press
In his native language, Jean Guéhenno was known as an “homme de letteres” — a writer, essayist, teacher and public intellectual. Born in 1890, Guéhenno put together what’s considered the definitive portrait of life in occupied France during World War II, “Journal des années noires,” or “Diary of the Dark Years,” a grim account of curfews, food and fuel shortages, poverty, Nazi terror and French right-wing collaboration with the occupying forces.
David Ball, Smith College professor emeritus of French and comparative literature, has now provided the first English translation of Guéhenno’s diary, along with an introduction, extensive notes and a biographical dictionary. Ball notes that Guéhenno’s diary stands out for another reason: The author essentially took a vow of public silence during the war, refusing to write for a publishing industry under Nazi control.
“What he wrote was to appear, if at all, only underground,” Ball writes. By contrast, Ball notes, reading what many other French writers produced during the war makes it seem “that most of [them] lived through the Occupation without seeing it.”
Not so Guéhenno, a World War I veteran turned pacifist who was strongly left-wing though not a communist. In fall 1940, he likened the occupation to a prison sentence of indeterminate length. He was disgusted by the Vichy France regime headed by Philippe Pétain, whose fervid anti-Semitism and right-wing beliefs led to the deportations of French Jews to Nazi death camps and the executions of leftists.
“The men of Vichy ... betray their country,” Guéhenno wrote in early 1943. “They need to maintain public opinion in a degraded, lifeless state. Above all, nobody must know what the requisitions have been like, or that thousands of Frenchmen have been shot.”
Guéhenno took solace in continuing to teach literature to his students, working to imbue them with the values of the French cultural tradition. And his hopes began to increase a little with the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944; in one entry, he describes getting out some of his old hiking maps from Normandy to follow the troops’ progress. And on Aug. 25, 1944, he penned his last entry as Paris was liberated and joy swept through the city: “Freedom — France is beginning again.”