I am the product of a English teacher/homemaker mom and a history professor dad. Dig deeper into the family dirt and you’ll find coal miners, farmers and engineers. My paternal grandmother even served as a Chief Yeoman in World War I. I have relatives on both sides of the family who have done the genealogy, so I know my familial history back a number of generations. My roots are in England, the Netherlands and the Midwest. It’s no wonder I’m an Anglophile and a Green Bay Packers fan!
The women in The People in the Photo and The Sea House are not so fortunate. They can’t even get a grip on who their mothers were, let alone their grandmothers. In The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, Parisian archivist Helene Hivert doesn’t know much about her mother except that she died when she was four. For years she didn’t even know how her mother died because nobody would talk about it, and her father would get very upset when Helene asked. Years later as an adult, Helene finds a newspaper clipping with a photo of her mother and two men on a tennis court and decides to find out who those men were. What follows is a series of letters between Helene and Stephane, the son of one of those men. Peeling the layers of family mysteries was fascinating and if I hadn’t had to go to work, I would have finished this novel in a day.
In The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, Ruth similarly knows little about her mother. Her mother also died when she was young, but not before she had told Ruth stories about her grandmother’s grandmother: She “was a seal woman. She cast off her seal skin, fell in love with a fisherman, had his child and then she left them. Sooner or later, seal people always go back to the sea.” Well Ruth goes back, not to the sea, but to an island in the Outer Hebrides where her mother said she had grown up and buys a house, and soon she is deep in investigating secrets involving a dead child who just might have some Selkie (seal people) blood in her. I loved the way the book shuttled back and forth between the 1860s occupant’s story and that of Ruth, the present day owner. I definitely want to get to the Hebrides one day, even though, as far as I know, I have no Selkies in my ancestral pool.
If you love books about family secrets, you’ll enjoy these two titles.