Un Secret by Philippe Grimbert: Therapeutic autobiography outweighs fictional aspect

This is my review of Un secret (Ldp Litterature) by Philippe Grimbert.

Growing up in Paris just after World War 2, a sickly only child imagines having the kind of athletic, successful brother in whom his father could have taken pride. Keen to integrate into French society, to the extent of changing “Grinberg” to “Grimbert”, his Jewish parents ironically conform to an Aryan stereotype of physical beauty and fitness. It is not until his mid-teens that the narrator learns “a secret”, which dramatically alters his perception of his family.

Based on a true story, although you have to research this fact for yourself, it presents a poignant, at times harrowing, situation, perhaps too short on detail for a simple autobiography. Grimbert is creative to the extent of imagining two alternative paths by which his parents met, fell in love and married. He imagines them on one hand living relatively unscathed through the Nazi occupation of France, on the other suffering the ignominy of having to wear yellow stars and seeking escape to the “Zone Libre”. He also chooses to change the identity of the person who reveals the secret to him.

Although I admired the stark brevity of his style, and appreciated the full horror of the family tragedy, some aspects disappointed me. Grimbert does not feel the need to develop the personalities of his parents’ relatives, so they remain a sometimes confusing set of names. The story is based on a large amount of “telling” of events, with little revelation through dialogue or acting out of scenes. In the process, a good deal of potential drama is left untapped.

So, I rate it highly not as a piece of fiction but rather as a mixture of autobiography and therapeutic exercise by a man whose experience of psychological trauma in his own family prompted him to become a psychoanalyst as an adult. This story lends itself to study at school to enable teenagers to understand moral dilemmas particularly in Nazi-occupied France

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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