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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical


The Summer of the Elder Tree

Marie Chaix

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To purchase The Summer of the Elder Tree

Title: The Summer of the Elder Tree
Author: Marie Chaix
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Summer of the Elder Tree - US
The Summer of the Elder Tree - UK
The Summer of the Elder Tree - Canada
L'été du sureau - Canada
The Summer of the Elder Tree - India
L'été du sureau - France
  • French title: L'été du sureau
  • Translated by Harry Mathews

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine, very personal account

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Marie Chaix is best-known for her auto/biographical works dealing with her family and in particular her father's role as a collaborator in the Second World War (and his subsequent long prison sentence) and the effect that had on the family. She may have worked through it, but it clearly still weighs on her, coming to the fore again even in this work, where, for example, she writes:

     Beaugras, our father's name, was a depository of shame: a shame that oozed from the type on the front pages of newspapers at a time when I didn't know how to read; the viscous shame of prison bars when I wondered what he was doing behind them. Today I tell myself that it must be terrible to be the child of somebody one is ashamed of without knowing why, loving him all the same, without knowing why. Except that he is the father.
       Writing has, over the years, been something she could turn to, but The Summer of the Elder Tree is also about her struggle with writing, beginning with the admission:
     One day something happened to me. One day I lost confidence and decided not to write any more.
       The Summer of the Elder Tree reflects on much of her life (and on her loves), and is also an account of finding a way back to writing, after what would be more than a decade of literary silence. Hit hard by the 1990 death of her editor, Alain Oulman, she finds herself adrift -- filling notebooks, but not putting together: "anything presentable or fully accomplished".
       Her older daughter, Émilie's, separation from her considerably older husband in 2000 -- when they had a child who wasn't even four yet -- is one of the events that prods Chaix to write again. It leads her to reflect on her own past -- including how she left her (slightly younger) husband, decades earlier, taking their two young children, and trying to start anew.
       This personal memoir-essay does center on Chaix's own life, as she describes significant parts of it and, in particular, her relationships -- with her parents and siblings, her daughters, the men in her life. It is cursory autobiography -- the entire account is little over a hundred pages -- but nevertheless very revealing; it's also quite moving, a vulnerable young woman grasping for holds -- in love, in motherhood, in writing.
       Quite beautifully written -- and lovingly translated by her second husband, accomplished author Harry Mathews -- The Summer of the Elder Tree impressively layers personal history and memory in presenting how Chaix reached these points -- and specifically that point of being able to conceive of a book again (the book that became this book).
       Part of a larger body of work that deals with her past and the people in it (in some ways like the books of Annie Ernaux), The Summer of the Elder Tree is a good introduction to Chaix and her work -- without quite the dreadful intensity of her other books available in English that deal more directly with her father and what he did.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 June 2013

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The Summer of the Elder Tree: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Marie Chaix was born in 1942.

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© 2013 the complete review

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