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  • The Politics of Parenting in Nancy Huston's Fault LinesTransgenerational Trauma Revisited
  • Susan Bainbrigge (bio)

Writing in the Financial Times about French author Alexandre Jardin's book Des gens très bien,1 a controversial revisiting of his wartime family history and grandfather's collaborationist past, journalist Simon Kuper concluded his review with the statement: "One day the war might cease to be a family trauma, but that is still decades away."2 Henry Rousso's 1987 study of the "syndrome de Vichy" underlines this view: the traumatic legacy of the Occupation in France, ever-present in the French psyche as "un passé qui ne passe pas."3 The legacies of World War II continue to inform writings by contemporary authors and to be of interest to readers and critics, as evidenced by the many literary prizes and high volume sales of such publications.4

Nancy Huston is no exception: writing in her native English and adoptive French, she has drawn on her own experiences of displacement and loss to revisit the legacies of war and familial trauma in novels such as The Mark of the Angel (L'Empreinte de l'ange, 1998) and the focus here, Fault Lines.5 First published in French as Lignes de faille in 2006 (winner of the Prix Femina), and shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, the novel portrays the lives of four generations of one family, via four first-person child narrators, in a story told from present to past. The novel opens with great-grandson Sol's story, in 2004, followed by "Randall, 1982," mother "Sadie, 1962," and ending with "Kristina, 1944–45." Legacies of transgenerational transmission of trauma haunt the subsequent generations in a [End Page 23] multitude of ways, beginning with the recent past in the United States and stretching back via parents, grandparents, and a great-grandparent to wartime Europe.

Randall, Sadie, and Kristina are presented in their roles as parents, grandparents, and a great-grandparent. The origins of the family trauma are traced backward through accounts of multiple traumatic events as they affect various members of the family, in different historical, religious, and geographical contexts. These include the United States and Canada, Israel, and Germany, encompassing Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism, from World War II through McCarthyism, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the World Trade Center terrorist attack, and torture committed by soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war that began in March 2003. The retrospective and multifocal style of narration supports a reading in which the idea of originating trauma is rendered complex and nuanced.6 Huston examines the complex dynamics of parent-child relationships (especially the maternal role) in the light of trauma. Her novel offers alongside this family narrative a broader critique of various parenting "ideologies" including portraits of multiple transmissions of trauma. There is a reflection on ways in which Holocaust legacies are explored; the novel presents a complex portrayal of a family whose transnational history intersects with Holocaust testimony. That testimony is presented via the different viewpoints of the characters and depictions of the societies in which they live; it thus contains a dynamic quality and resonates with studies by the likes of Dominick LaCapra. He emphasizes the need to attend to the particular perspectives and potential transferential dynamics of the witness or, in his words, the particularities of the "remembering self."7 In her study of Huston's novel, Lepage identifies the impact of trauma on the four narrators in her analysis of history, memory, and forgetting (identifying a flight of "errance" for Kristina, a thirst for knowledge in Sadie, an awareness of conflict for Randall, and an obsession with security in Sol).8 My analysis seeks to extend specifically the analysis of trauma in the text, notably, transgenerational trauma, informed by Marianne Hirsch's work in this field.9 The transgenerational dynamics resonate in Huston's portraits where the six-year-old selves of Kristina, Sadie, Randall, [End Page 24] and Sol recount their experiences from first-, second-, third-, and fourthgeneration perspectives.10

The ethical imperative to understand the past in order to identify and deal with unresolved processes that risk repeating themselves is...


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