I’ve loved how kind the WSJ has been to me and to A Reunion of Ghosts–and by WSJ, I mean the Wisconsin State Journal, of course–but today the other WSJ–The Wall Street Journal–also sent Reunion some love, when poet, biographer (most recently of Stalin’s Daughter), and essayist Rosemary Sullivan included Reunion in this week’s Best Five books feature. Because the article is behind a pay wall, I’ll paste the part about Reunion here.
A Reunion of Ghosts
By Judith Claire Mitchell (2015)
The novel begins with the quote, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the 3rd & 4th generations” and offers a portrait of four generations of the Alter family from the mid-19th century to the late 20th. The Jewish German great-grandfather invented a process that served both as a fertilizer to maximize world food production and as mustard gas in World War I. In one scene, Alter, testing his experiment, watches as enemy soldiers die in agony. “Death is death,” he rationalizes. (Alter is based on the real inventor of chemical warfare, Fritz Haber.) Alter’s invention becomes the gas used in the Nazi extermination camps. The novel focuses on three daughters of the fourth generation. It is they who carry the guilt of their great-grandfather’s invention. They are witty, almost unrelievedly funny, unforgettable and terribly damaged. “DNA as a trail of bread crumbs,” the narrator, Delph, muses. The girls see suicide as salvation: “We talk about the horizontal light . . . that sometimes replaces sunlight. . . . [It] is . . . like an opalescent blanket inviting us to slide beneath it.” The writing is macabre, deliciously brilliant and hilarious, but you have to have a mordant sense of humor to love this book.