Tuesday, 31 August 2021

The Only Girl in the World

Finished August 30
The Only Girl in the World: a memoir by Maude Julien with Ursula Gauthier, translated by Adriana Hunter

This memoir is a dark tale of a girl raised by a autocratic father that thought he was superior and who chose his future wife when she was herself a young girl, raising her to be able to educate a child to the purpose he envisioned, being a future world leader able to survive difficult situations. He had been active in the Resistance in World War II, and was a member of a secretive Freemason group. 
His war experience led him to ensure his daughter was able to do several things: sit for hours without moving; not let her feelings show through any facial expressions; navigate in the dark under time constraints; and have the skills to make it through concentration camps.
For the first, he began by having her sit still in his presence, but soon had her sit on a stool in the dark cellar, where there were rats, with bells on her clothing so he could tell if she moved. He trained her to keep her emotions, including preferences to herself, letting nothing show on her face, and making choices quickly to not give away weakness. He structured her entire day with tasks and lessons, having her work with laborers he hired to build things, look after the few animals on their property, assist in butchering animals for meat, and attend his every need. Her food intake was controlled, and often her bread was left to go deliberately stale before she was allowed to eat it. She had no medical or dental care, but had strange scars on her body that she still doesn't know the origin of. 
He had seen that musicians were often kept from death in the concentration camps and so had her learn multiple musical instruments including piano, accordion, violin, and drums. This became one of her comforts in life. She also took comfort in the animals on the property, trying to take time to show them love when she could. 
Her mother, under her father's power from a young age, participated in the control enacted on her, exacting punishments and showing resentment on her as well. But from time to time, her mother also spoke against her father, with Maude afraid to agree lest it be used against her later. 
It was through the influence of a music instructor that Maude was eventually able to leave her father's home, and begin to make a life for herself, but it took years for her to find appropriate therapy and begin to deal with the issues created by her strange upbringing.
Her father seems to be both selfish and delusional, but ultimately a weak man. But he made her life full of constant fear and I am glad that she was able to escape and now life a good life. 

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