01 July 2011

anagrams and a book review

I went to the library the other week to get another book off my Library Reading List {read about how I got this list here—it involves the eHarmony of literature}, but shock and sadness, they were out of it.

Didn't they know to reserve a copy of every book on my list for me? Apparently not.

I went to get The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell, and I ended up with The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which is also by Maggie O'Farrell. I figured—oh, close enough.

But oh, I didn't figure on this book making me stay up past my bedtime. It takes place in present-day London and India of the 1930s{ish}. I didn't figure on getting lost in the language and being filled with a strong impulse to be in England, on a coast pondering my life.

I didn't figure on finding a passage that summed up a little of what I was going for in that poem I wrote for my grandma. I ask in there: Did she pass down her gestures, as well as her brown hair, in the family DNA?

It's something I've wondered. We all look for smile similarities or a family nose when we look back on old pictures. Am I in this face? Would someone know that we were related? Is that where I got my funny ears?

But what about mannerisms? Do those get passed down, generation to generation, as we imitate our mothers, who are imitating their mothers, who are imitating their mothers?

I don't know. I don't know how my great-great grandmother held her head when she was reading or sewing.

But in this book by Maggie O'Farrell, there's an older family member who's been secreted away for 61 years: the younger generation didn't even know she existed. When the older and younger meet, the older woman is a direct line to the past—and she can see her own mother in this younger woman.

So this is the passage that I read late, late one night, and thought, Now, that is what I'm going for in my poem:

From all her family—her and Kitty and Hugo and all the other babies and her parents—from all of them, there is only this girl. She is the only one left. They have all narrowed down to this black-haired girl sitting on the sand, who has no idea that her hands and her eyes and the tilt of her head and the fall of her hair belong to Esme's mother. We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin the world as anagrams of our antecedents.

Anagrams of our antecedents. Makes you want to rush to your family pictures, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. I am now so up for reading that book. For one, I have always loved the name Esme. And for two, I love the phrase "lent features." Thanks!



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