An Exclu­sive Love: A Memoir

Johan­na Ador­jan; Anthea Bell, trans.
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011

A sim­ple declar­a­tive sen­tence, the first of many, reveals the awful truth: Johanna’s grand­par­ents died by their own choice on a Sun­day in Octo­ber, in the year 1991. This mem­oir pro­ceeds from that sim­ple state­ment of fact to her imag­i­na­tive account of their life and times, begin­ning in the 1940’s and con­clud­ing with their death as they had planned it, alone togeth­er in their bed, hold­ing each other’s hands and at peace. 

From that event the author pro­ceeds to weave togeth­er what she has learned and what she has con­cep­tu­al­ized about who they were, and what events befell them as they sur­vived impris­on­ment in Mau­thausen, the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp; endured the Com­mu­nist takeover of Hun­gary after the war end­ed, and final­ly fled, dur­ing the 1956 upris­ing, to Den­mark, where they made their home until they end­ed their lives. 

The author has based her nar­ra­tive large­ly on the mem­o­ries of fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends, and it unfolds with­in the frame­work set by the final twen­ty four hours of her grand­par­ents’ lives, neces­si­tat­ing some shift­ing of atten­tion between past and present. 

This recon­struc­tion of their lov­ing mar­riage, replete with mys­tery and dan­ger, is an art­ful mix of fact and fic­tion, told with rich and vivid detail.

Claire Rudin is a retired direc­tor of the New York City school library sys­tem and for­mer librar­i­an at the Holo­caust Resource Cen­ter and Archives in Queens, NY. She is the author of The School Librar­i­an’s Source­book and Chil­dren’s Books About the Holocaust.

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