‘An Exclusive Love’ by Johanna Adorjan

2010, 185 p

At first blush, this might seem a rather inappropriate book to be reading just as Mum died, but I found it oddly soothing.  In the opening lines of the book we learn that the author’s grandparents committed suicide together in 1991, and the preparations for this suicide run throughout the text, written in the present tense, minutely hypothesizing about their movements on that final day.   It is a day of banalities: picking flowers from the garden and placing them in vases,  taking the dog to a neighbour who is oblivious to their plans, prising open the capsules containing the drugs that will kill them, and ignoring the phone call that they suspect is a family member.  There’s a calmness and purposefulness that I, at least, found reassuring- quite apart from the ethical questions that their actions raise.  As the title suggests, this was an excluding love as well as an exclusive one.

Interwoven with the present-tense rundown of their last day is a Who-Do-You-Think- You-Are type reconstruction of her grandparents’ lives, stitched together  from the accounts of relatives and her grandparents’ surviving friends.  Her Hungarian Jewish grandparents themselves had said little of their wartime experiences – “we don’t talk about that”.   Her grandfather had survived the concentration camps; her grandmother had spent the war in hiding.  Following the Russian re-occupation of Hungary in 1956 her grandparents fled to Denmark as refugees, where they spent the rest of their years, grateful to Denmark for the sanctuary, but steadfastly Hungarian.

This is only a short book, which is perhaps a good thing as the tension in waiting for the suicide is rather drawn out.  The book is beautifully written and I suspect, beautifully translated with a warm, loving narrative voice that is quietly accepting of her grandparents’ decision.  There is no fear of death here,  and this is a good thing for me to read just at the moment.

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