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The Children's House by Alice Nelson

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PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN BOOKS AUSTRALIA
REVIEW BY KRIS WILLIAMS

The Children’s House joins my list of favourite books for 2018. Nelson writes in a beautiful and considered way that conveys the depth and the layers of this story. For me, this is a story of family; of mothers and mothering. We have all been shaped by mothers in some way.

Marina is a writer and academic married to psychoanalyst Jacob, who has a son Ben from a previous marriage. Both Marina and Jacob were raised on a kibbutz in Israel where children are separated from their parents and raised collectively in the children’s house. They met many years later and married. After living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for many years, they move to a brownstone in Harlem that was previously a shelter run by elderly nuns.

Constance is a Rwandan refugee with a young son Gabriel. Damaged by the war, she escaped the atrocities of Rwanda and now lives in Harlem. Before the nuns moved away, they helped her navigate her way through motherhood and living in a new country with a small child – a child she didn’t know how to care for.

After a brief encounter with Marina, Constance and Gabriel come to depend on her and over time, Marina’s bond with the little boy strengthens.

Throughout the story we learn about Marina’s mother Gizela and Ben’s mother Leni who have, either emotionally or physically, abandoned them just as Constance seems to be doing to Gabriel; about Rose, Jacob’s mother, who abandoned her dreams because it couldn’t include her children; and about Vera, who now mothers the old nuns that once lived in the brownstone.

All of their stories are woven together into this gentle, beautiful and sometimes tragic book. ‘The Children’s House is a gently lyrical, slowly unfolding tale of lives lived, lost, suffered and survived. A fantastic read that I hugely recommend.

 

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.