An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorján tells the story of her grandparents, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, escaped Budapest during the 1956 uprising against the Communist regime, and died together in a joint suicide in Copenhagen in 1991. Her grandfather was 82 and dying, while her grandmother was 71 and in perfect health, but they could not live without each other so when it became clear his time was almost over they swallowed sleeping pills and fell asleep in bed, holding hands. The book is not divided into chapters, but Adorjan goes back and forth between her own personal experiences and a fictional narrative supported by known facts of what may have happened the day her grandparents died.
Although An Exclusive Love could easily have been overly sentimental and melodramatic, Adorján manages restraint in sharing the story of her grandparents who passed away when she was twenty. She includes the details of their lives she recalls personally, as well as those she has gathered from speaking to others who knew them. An Exclusive Love is Adorján's attempt to explain why despite a large loving family her grandparents choose suicide rather than being separated by death.
An Exclusive Love is a quiet book, the details subtle and elegant. The writing is concise and mostly lovely, so it appears to be a well done translation although there were a few times it was slightly staccato. The title itself is perfect for the book. The problem I found with An Exclusive Love is that Adorján is not really writing her own memoir- it is that of her grandparents. Although she attempted to research their lives, speaking to friends and family, there is just too much missing for it to be a complete book. Adorján's grandparents did not like to talk about the Holocaust, and so there are many large gaps in An Exclusive Love where she is forced to hypothesize about what things must have been like for them. The book seems written at a distance, and that distance is likely what allowed Adorján to write this heart-breaking story in the first place. Unfortunately it also means that the reader never really gets pulled into the hearts of those involved. I felt like I had only a small taste of the great love story Adorján was attempting to tell. Although touching, An Exclusive Love is not the unforgettable memoir it could have been simply because the two people who would have been best able to tell the story are no longer around to share it.
Translation by: Anthea Bell
Release Date: February 16th, 2009 (This edition was released January 10th, 2011)
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