‘Past tense, present tense, future tense- what does it matter? When you reach my age they all become muddled anyway. Differentiating tenses- it’s all just another form of housekeeping.’
Ten-year-olds Max and Ada have created an universe for themselves within a tree house in Paris when the Nazi’s arrive to occupy the country and cause a rupture in their private world. Both are doomed by the happenstance of their birth, Max the product of rape and Ada, Jewish. Nothing touches them in their treehouse, working spells, and giving birth to a pure love affair that will remain with Max for the entirity of his life. No one escapes the ugly realities of the world, as Max and Ada learn, but not even the nightmares a child conjures could ever compare with the horrors of man, the tragedy of a damned future.
Grandson Mark is called to be the keeper of his grandfather’s dark shame, and to join him on a journey to discover the end of his and Ada’s story, which Mark doesn’t fully believe. Then there is Max’s mother, who discarded him like an old coat- a woman he never really knew. Just what is hidden in her past? His grandfather has always been different, has never really reached out to him before, a strange man who is keeping a mannequin in his garden, living in a shed with scraps like memories tacked the walls, he tells him “If I lose the past I’ll be homeless”. He is terrified of losing memories of Ada, all that he tells her in his mind has been an anchor to this world, as if living for them both. But to forget, no sin would be greater! Mark himself is floating off, unable to face day to day living, breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of leaving the house, it’s nearly impossible to focus on his grandfather let alone consider helping him on his mission. In the agitated state Mark is in, it would be madness! How can he cross the English Channel, possibly the only and last thing Max will ever ask of him, when he can barely leave the home he lives in?
Both are damned by vanishings in their life. Mark’s in crisis, five years after one poor decision, “It was as if everything I knew about myself was coming to an end.” It cost him more than life on stage, in the spotlight- lead singer in his band. It cost him his beautiful girlfriend, a dancer named Katie. He is living in the ruins of his choice, with a fractured mind but maybe by helping his grandfather resurrect the past, he will find footing in his own future.
I could hear Ada’s heart breaking, there is terrible cruelty in our cowardice. To be damned by choices, seemingly cursed by the history in which we as children have no control over, is devastating. Not knowing is torture, you can imagine all manner of terrible things, but knowing is it’s own fresh hell. Max’s confusion and longing for his mother is as putrid a wound as his betrayal of Ada. Mark has his own shame, caged in himself, refusing to reach out and explain… They are painfully alike, so who a better caretaker of his grandfather’s past than Mark?
Sad to the end!
Publication Date: January 18, 2018