Distant Fathers

This singular autobiography unfurls from author Marina Jarre’s native Latvia during the 1920s and 30s, and expands southward to the Italian countryside. In distinctive writing as poetic as it is precise, Jarre depicts an exceptionally multinational and complicated family: her elusive, handsome father—a Jew who perished in the Holocaust; her severe, cultured mother—an Italian Lutheran who translated Russian literature; and her sister and Latvian grandparents. Jarre tells of her passage from childhood to adolescence, first in a Baltic nation where she spoke and read German surrounded by the sound of many other tongues and religions, and then in traumatic exile to Italy after her parents’ divorce. Jarre lives with her maternal grandparents, French-speaking Waldensian Protestants in the Alpine valleys north of Turin, where she finds fascist Italy a problematic home for a Riga-born Jew. This memoir—likened to Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov or Annie Ernaux’s The Year and now translated into English for the first time—probes questions of time, language, belonging and estrangement, while asking what homeland can be for those who have none, or many more than one.

Excerpt from Distant Fathers