I read Eva Hoffman's Lost in Translation* a long time ago and did not think deeply about it then. So many women were writing memoirs, after all. She describes in Lost in Translation her move with her parents from Poland to the rather provincial place Vancouver was in the 50's. This was an extraordinarily difficult experience for an intelligent, artistic and sensitive young girl like Hoffman. I can hardly imagine how she and her parents felt--warm, "personal," naturally cultivated people with a whole history and the losses of the Polish shtetl Jews incorporated into their most intimate selves-- to be confronted with Canadians, so safe, so smug, so protected, as they must have perceived them: people at any rate hardly aware of the world these European humanists came from. Hoffman experienced great culture shock and alienation, as she relates.
Recently, I downloaded Hoffman's 2002 quasi science fiction novel, The Secret,** set in the very near future, and became quite fascinated with this tale of alienation and resolution between a mother and daughter. The Secret is partly an attempt to imagine the emotional lives of people one might be tempted to think have no emotional lives, or very impoverished ones. Or if they do have emotions, these are carefully regulated and/or couched in superficial Freudianisms or pop physio-psychology. What affects me most, however, and what I feel is most original, is the way this novel centers around the mother-daughter relationship, a relationship that so many writers, so many women in fact, would rather pass over in silence, as if there is something unspeakable about this bond. I am not sure she manages to bring her people to life, but as a novel of ideas this work is engaging.
In good 21st Century style, her Adviser (I think everyone has a mental adviser in the near future) tells Iris, the protagonist this, when she describes how close she feels to her mother:
You're describing a pathological version of the mother-daughter bond...a relationship in which there isn't enough separation, so that the daughter gets submerged and lost."
As if mother-daughter love weren't always pathological--if you want to see it that way.
In the case of Iris and her mother, the bond is weird, and I don't want to give this not very hard to figure out secret away. It does become apparent almost immediately, and the working out of her shock and grief is what most of the book deals with. I must confess that Iris never comes to life for me, and I don't find the solution to her dilemma convincing. This tale is a re-working of Pinocchio, with the manufactured child coming to life through the intercession of others after some (fairly tame, in her case) adventures. But Hoffman has done a brave thing here, because it is virtually impossible to talk about mothers and daughters in today's atmosphere of almost total lack of regard, amounting to squeamishness, for this bond. She's writing into a vacuum.
Her latest novel, Appassionata, here reviewed in the N.Y Times, to be released in July, will be a little more expensive than the usual Kindle download. However, I think it is valuable to read books when they first appear if you can. It's worth the money to me, anyway.
Here is an interview with Hoffman. It's long but of interest, I think. It's nice to hear and see her, noting the still quite evident accent, the strong gesturing hands, and her sensitive, mobile features.
*This has nothing to do with the movie of the same title!
**No relation to the mega-best seller!