Title: Tapestry of My Mother’s Life: Stories, Fragments, and Silences
Author: Malve von Hassell
Genre: Biography / Memoir
Tapestry of My Mother’s Life weaves together the story of Christa von Hassell. Christa spent her formative years in Pomerania where she was born in 1923. She moved to Germany in the 1930s, and lived for periods in Prague, Brussels, Rome, and England before embarking to America in 1971. Christa died in Southampton, Long Island in 2009.
Tapestry of My Mother’s Life is a wonderful marriage of memories refracted through imagination. It’s so thoroughly absorbing that the reader can be forgiven for thinking they have picked up an incredibly well-written novel, with the complex and compelling Christa as protagonist.
The prose is simply lovely. The words are intricately woven, finely detailed, and carefully weighted with subtle emotion. Ms. von Hassell is a gifted and accomplished writer. Her use of language is intrinsically elegant, the chapters precisely structured, and the book is flawlessly edited.
However, it would have been beneficial to have provided a family tree or timeline for reference, and the inclusion of the photographs would have been better served in the middle or positioned throughout.
The book provides a fascinating account of an immensely interesting life. Christa was born on the maternal family estate, “Muttrin” in Pomerania (now in Poland). Her fairly idyllic childhood is wonderfully realized. The rich, descriptive imagery of Muttrin and its inhabitants bring the estate vibrantly to life.
As with any family, there is a liberal scattering of eccentric and unconventional characters. Their various exploits are related with clear-eyed objectivity, while their personalities are gently analyzed, albeit with a deceptively sharp and knowing insight.
The reader follows Christa as a teenager navigating Germany under the Nazi regime and into her marriage with the Author’s Father, Wolf Ulrich von Hassell. Both of them were extremely well-read, and the depth and quiet intensity of their relationship is touchingly revealed, such as the sweetly telling inscriptions they left for one another in the flyleaves of books.
However, the purpose of Tapestry of My Mother’s Life is not purely to relay Christa’s intriguing journey. There are two additional themes, and these will be familiar and/or relevant in some degree for the majority of readers.
First, although Christa was a survivor and possessed a remarkable knack of adapting to circumstance, she did so silently. Any personal subject deemed uncomfortable was simply dismissed or deflected.
Ms. von Hassell writes movingly of her growing frustration with this repressive approach while Christa was alive, followed by the futile awareness of all the things left unsaid, and unasked, once she had died.
It’s deeply affecting but never veers into self-indulgence. Even when Ms. von Hassell contemplates the impact that Christa’s personality traits had on her own life, she does so with measured introspection and acceptance.
Second, is the consideration of the unassuming, everyday rubble that a person leaves behind, from a favorite piece of kitchen equipment to a centuries-old writing desk. Each have a staggering wealth of memories soaked into them and Ms. von Hassell explores not only the emotional attachment to these inanimate objects, but also the painfully prosaic question of what to do with it all.
Feeling unbearably guilty to simply let it go, but knowing it equally unhealthy to linger among too many ghosts of the past, Ms. von Hassell writes with amusing eloquence, recognizing the pitfall of overwhelming sentimentality as she debates the dilemma.
Tapestry of My Mother’s Life: Stories, Fragments, and Silences is written with consummate skill to produce a beautifully profound and engrossing read. Ms. von Hassell effortlessly constructs a captivating portrait of Christa’s life and emotional legacy that is fabulously entertaining and achingly poignant.
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