Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hanna's Daughters: A Mother's (Lack of) Voice

This week's book was Hanna's Daughters. The most interesting thing about this one was not the plot; it focused on three Swedish women, and to be honest, at times the characters were kind of flat and the plot trudged along.

What interested me, though, was what the book seemed to be saying about mother-daughter relationships. By the time you were 2/3rds of the way through the book, you realized that all of the plot, all of the descriptions of Hanna and her daughter Johanna came from Anna, Johanna's daughter. You see Anna involved in writing the very text you've already read, and you come to realize that she is an unreliable narrator; nothing that you've already read had came from the women it directly involved. At the time it's written, Hanna has passed away and Johanna is suffering from either Alzheimer's or something similar, and has no way to communicate. Both have lost their voices and are only capable of speaking of their histories through their relative.

This implies that Anna has inherited her mother and grandmother's voice. There are pieces of the text that only either woman would know, tied together with pieces that clearly could be family legend. How Hanna felt being raped would be a perfect example of the first (we learn that Johanna didn't realize this piece of her mother's history until she was an adult), and the fact that Hanna could only cry from joy for much of her life seems like a legend.

Yet how accurate can a daughter or granddaughter's interpretation be? We are so tied in by our own definitions of our relatives and the roles they have played regarding us. Anna remains bitter about her mother's acceptance of her father's treatment;given this, how can she provide a clear view? Her grandmother, she admits, she hardly knew and didn't particularly like, and her portion of the novel seems based on letters and those family legends.

What, then, is Frederickkson trying to say? The title defines the younger generations by their relation to the older, but the youngest is the only one with a voice. Do we, as a society, as daughters and sons, define how our parents and grandparents are remembered? Are we rewriting their lives simply because we outlive them? And by becoming parents, do we lose our own voices to those of the later generations?

The book ends after Johanna and her husband die, and when Anna finishes her book about her family. Only then, is she allowed to leave the bonds they had wrapped around her behind, and move on. Yet we see scenes of her with her daughters, suggesting that the cycle is continuing. Suggesting, in fact, that a new series is beginning, one that could leave her voiceless, defined by her daughters and granddaughters.

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