Elizabeth has questions that only lead to more. Her mother, Genevieve, has answers that leave her filled with questions. Yet Elizabeth is not satisfied with her mother’s tales, warnings and graceful decorations; Elizabeth needs to know it all.
Genevieve was born in Austria and moved to Vienna while quite young. Hers was a wealthy family given to parties and history. Genevieve was sent to the most progressive school in the city until the rumors started to become real people in real towns in Austria. Then she was sent to the public school down the streets and alleys, daily trying to understand why she could not ever name a person she knew on the list the teacher read aloud each morning, why she seemed different from all these other children, and why her mother got so upset when she mentioned that she, too, wanted to wear the knee high white socks the young Hitler group wore when ice skating.
Genevieve’s mother and father were not ones to tell their youngest the truth. The days of parties and glamour for people of Jewish descent were soon to end, and they were engaged in buying their way out of the country before Hitler arrived to rule. Her father, a historian as was his father before him, was distant and converted to Catholicism during these last days, and the rest of the family followed his lead. Her mother was angry and gave only silent glances of warning and cryptic advice. Now Genevieve’s own daughter, Elizabeth, wants to know what, who, how and why about this war, and her mother has no good answers to give.
In Elizabeth’s constant prodding to know, in her desperation to “become” as the camp detainees and her conversion to Judaism, she prods her mother to examine aloud her story. Her story is once filled with unanswerable holes that she and Elizabeth continue to pick at and use to pick at one another.
Margaret McMullan has done a elegant job of telling a tale about Hitler and his war from the perspective of a young girl’s childhood days in Austria and on to her becoming a mother with a grown child living in America. Her bits and pieces are tantalizing, and while not set in Germany or in a concentration camp, they leave the reader with the same sense of sorrow and an understanding of the tragedy that occurred. By weaving a quiet and demanding tale of furniture collecting and wood floors, journeys and friends lost, McMullan spins a tale that manages to place itself in a category by itself. Neither the typical horror nor the dramatic tale of love and woe, In My Mother’s House is a provoking read.