Translation by : femme/900/7 September 2005
In 1943, at the time he finds himself in London, Albert Cohen learns of his mother's death. Because France is then occupied, he is unable to return to be near her and from the pain caused by this he then begins to write a work of mourning.
It is a "canto of death" that he will rework and that will appear in its final form ten years later under the title The Book About My Mother. As one follows each line, the figure of the mother, even if she is not mentioned and seems to be absent from those lines, cries out from the heart...She is irreplaceable.
This is a love story, one that I did not choose, one that imposed itself on me. My mother's love had no equal. It is an autobiograhical work, told in a single voice ("I see myself again...I remember...") in which he tells about his mother, their life together, their attentiveness to one another, and their silences, all which remains of her for him. In just an instant, within the space of a dream, this mother can be adequately loved by her surviving son through his attempts to bring her back to life and disguise her despair. No bizarre excesses, based on her Jewish origins, show through except for some recollections which are perhaps an attempt between the lines to explain a possessive love that was a bit extreme and magical. Who has opened up their heart to someone without being hit hard there? "But suddenly her excitement for living returned for she had just heard the steps of two of her loved ones at the bottom of the stairs...This made her emotional...She was a 'saintly sentinel' and is now gone forever..." . They encountered problems as foreigners confronted with a society to which they did not belong. A difficult integration, the mother voluntarily stays confined in her apartment as she waits everyday for the return of her two men, never hoping for any other happiness. She demonstrates such a great and total patience-nothing discourages her, not the fact that letters never arrive from her son nor the delays in seeing him because of numerous circumstances. She is there for him always, available without hesitation, no questions asked. "My mother's love had no equal."
. It is rather a homage to a woman who, like so many others, is unseperable from a crowd but unique to those whom she had loved. Emotions show through by turns, whether they be filled with tenderness with the memories of those loving gestures or rather the expression of regrets at times in front of this indifference, this embarrassment that was sometimes a bit marked in front of a maternal image . She was a mother who was somewhat naive and intrusive and whom he was a little bit ashamed of when he compared her to other women.
Her's was a love that seemed so natural and unforced in relation to filial love, a little like the image that children might have of it.Sometimes it was tyrannical, other times excessively generous.
As the pages go by, there is the painful confession, the impotent acknowledgement of the stupidity and pride of a son who has not always behaved in the proper way to express his love before his mother's love that is at times embarrassing.
There are reminiscences of those natural acts that were at times suffocating and filled with an uncompromising love that forgives all one's faults.
To cause his mother to reappear through this work is, perhaps, also an implicit desire to restore her to favor in his eyes.
There are the guilty regrets of an adult who doubtlessly felt like deserting this "ideal" woman, always being like the child he had been, a return to his childhood years.
. The lack of his mother's presence, the image of death and his fears entail a sorrow that seems to have no consolation. The memory of his innocent childhood and adolescence up to the appointed age of adulthood seems, above all, dictated by that which is emotional and not on the basis of some "literary" reasons where he seems to hardly concern himself at all about the cohesivety that is inevitably desired in these pages. Above all, it is a written work about love...in which the influx of images, the sudden vision of an object, and a certain aroma also cause a past to resurge that one beleves is indeed very much buried. As the pages go by, there are some small traces of memory from his past that come back to him. Each one of the five senses is then the carrier of emotions and feelings, whether it be from the scent of a pile of linens, the noise of a bunch of keys, or an inventory of "little nothings"-in the end, from a lot. There are no excessive compliments or sentimentality for his mother. And there is no idealization of her-just the suffering from this loss and also the pain of having to go on living while she no longer exists. She remains there for him, present in his sinful life.