More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen “You choose dead man over living girl? What sort of mother are you? What sort of woman are you? What sort of person are you?”

I told him: ’I am not mother anymore. I am not a woman, I am not a person. I am nothing. Mother and woman and person Novak Vera is dead. You killed her reason to live. I won’t sign for you. Do what you want.

(p. 217)

This is what Vera tells the ”doctor colonel” toward the end of the novel. It has taken a long time to get here, the built up secret that Vera knows, but her daughter doesn’t.

Except, she does. What child is unaware of the decisions her parents have made, whether they are voiced or not? We don’t need words to indicate whether we’ve been abandoned or betrayed.

This is how Nina has felt since she was six and a half, sent to live with her mother’s sister and husband, without really understanding why. And where was her mother, Vera, for roughly two years? She had been sent to Goli Otek, a prison on a rocky island, because she would not sign that her husband was a traitor. It didn’t matter to her that her husband was already dead; she would not destroy his name, his memory, the person he was.

Vera loved her husband more than her daughter. She loved her husband more than she loved her own life. Her decision cost her dearly. Not only did she suffer on the island, forced to stand over a fragile plant to protect it from the brutal sun, but her daughter suffered in her mother’s absence. So wounded was the little girl, that she could not be a good wife or mother to her own daughter.

The strength of Vera is brought forth in spectacular description. She was inspired by Eva Panic Nahir, a well-known and admired woman in Yugoslavia. ”Eva became a symbol of almost superhuman courage, epitomizing the capacity to sustain one’s humanity under the harshest conditions.” (Acknowledgments)

Yet my admiration for her is reserved because I think it takes far more courage to be a steadfast mother.