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Sometimes the past really is a foreign country.
When Julia Rosenthal returns to her suburban childhood home, the unspoken tensions of family life come flooding back.
In a different place and time, another woman struggles to tell the story of her early years in wartime Germany, gradually revealing the secrets she has carried through the century, until past and present collide with unexpected and haunting results.
In her gripping and beautifully crafted new novel, Sue Eckstein interweaves universal themes – the nature of identity, the meaning of family, the emotional legacy of the past – and unravels the impact of a war that resonates across generations.
'Interpreters is a work of fiction that has grown out of memory and imagination, informed by original research, family memoirs and oral history...' Sue Eckstein discusses the journey of writing her second novel in 'Interpreting our lives', written for The Policy Press.
© Policy Press at the University of Bristol, publishers of Families, Relationships and Societies from which the paper is taken.
A skilfully constructed saga spanning five generations...Interpreters is an ambitious book with an impressive breadth and an inventive way of intertwining its two plots.
The scene for this wonderful novel is set in the first paragraph: where privet hedges give way to barriers of leylandii and high wrought-iron gates. A place we are told that “could induce a yearning for death in even the most optimistic.” Not only does it establish the spikey, drily humorous tone of the narrator, but it clearly marks the territory for a story about the screens that people erect to conceal unpalatable truths as much as to protect themselves from the transgressions of others. Like all the best literary suburbs, behind the neat hedges all is not as it seems...With her characteristic lucid prose and deft characterisation, Eckstein has produced another finely-wrought and gripping novel that is destined to be a favourite with book groups.
The secrets she discloses are both disturbing and haunting. They touch on universal themes, and give a voice to the many who perished in the war, and the many silent secrets those who survived carried with them to their deathbeds...the characters are so strong and rounded that they will stay with you for years to come.
There is much that will resonate with families who've experienced difficult relationships in Sue Eckstein’s stunning new novel. Sensitively written and beautifully observed, it explores the damage that can be inadvertently inflicted within families when the secrets of the past have a hold over the present.
Creates a poignantly vivid sense of the horrors of war...the narrative is compelling and powerful. We too, as readers, become interpreters.
You just won’t want to stop reading until you reach the end of the book. This is a beautiful and moving story with credible characters that you will quickly warm to.
It reprises the parental silence and filial incomprehension at the trauma that remains too fierce ever to be spoken of...Strongly written...demonstrates that trauma is the most powerful inheritance of all.
The great beauty of this short, but complex book was that odd sensation you sometimes get at family gatherings where you spot little correlations between family members often generations apart, whether they’ve met each other before or not. And it’ll make you think of the strange forces, characteristics and attractions that led you to be exactly where you are right now.
Eckstein constructs her characters with a shrewd dramatist's eye. The dramatist's skill is evident too in the way she lets behavior reveal character and relationship rather than explanation. Eckstein has crafted a smartly intertwined pair of narratives about how versions of the past interplay within three generations, one which grabs the reader with its immediacy.
Book launch for Interpreters at the University of Sussex.
Photo © Patrick Dodds
Sue Eckstein's blog
Read Sue Eckstein's interview with Booksquawk on the big questions behind her novel.
'Interpreting Life': Sue Eckstein is interviewed in Disability Now magazine.