Here is a mesmerizing autobiographical novel: “A Secret” by Philippe Grimbert, published in 2004.

Only son, I had a brother for a long time”. So begins the cathartic story of this narrator whose first name will never be revealed.

This only son, born in post-war Paris, is a skinny little boy, who gazes with admiration at his father Maxime and his mother Tania, accomplished athletes with solar physical presence and beauty.

However, the little boy feels an infinite distance between himself and his athletic parents, and he fills his loneliness with an imaginary older brother, when he discovers a stuffed toy dog in a old trunk in the family apartment.

The stuffed toy dog – baptized Sim – and the imaginary big brother populate the lonely world of this sickly child. The imaginary big brother is as strong and charismatic as the narrator is weak and helpless.

Drowned in an ocean of silence, the little boy tries to reconstruct the family mythology. The young Maxime, athletic, seductive, falls passionately in love with the very beautiful Tania just before WWII. Married, they flee Paris to take refuge in the free zone for two years that resemble a country vacation on the fringes of History. When the war is over, they return to Paris and have a child, perfect reflection of their love.

However, this idyllic family mythology is shattered when the narrator reaches his fifteenth year and when Louise, a family friend, chooses to tell him about two people that no one has ever mentioned: Hannah and Simon.

The buried existence of Hannah and Simon is the secret behind the story of Maxim, Tania and their son – and it is terrible.

It’s even more terrible when you think that the story is based on a true account: the names may have been changed – it is Philippe Grimbert’s own childhood story and such family fate decided him to become a psychoanalyst.

This autobiographical novel is poignant, really.

It is tragic – to such an extent that we are surprised to think that sometimes reality goes beyond fiction – it makes you think at length about the weight of family secrets, the weight of family karma, dialogue and transparency that one wishes to put in place or not in the education of a child, the somatization of emotions, the guilt, the place of the dead and the place of the living.

A tragedy, but also a ray of hope when it comes to the liberating significance of speech.

Well, here is my interpretation of Tania: I have always pictured her in an Art Deco Paris, elegant in a dress revealing her shoulders. In a green-grayish outfit too, as was the approaching Nazi shadow.

May 14, 2021

Ted Baker dress – Prada heels – Chanel sunglasses – Stella McCartney clutch