As the trade publicist at IU Press, I was delighted when we launched the Break Away Books series. While our non-fiction books are very intriguing, I devour fiction, and the high quality of writing in this series is consistent with each book we publish.
My Life as a Silent Movie is no exception. In Kercheval’s latest novel, a lethargic and unfeeling Emma flies to Paris after losing her husband and young daughter in an auto accident and then discovering that she is adopted.
Emma begins her search for her presumed parents, a French Stalinist and a White Russian silent film star, the real life Ivan Mosjoukine. At the outset, she believes he is not her father, as Mosjoukine died 10 years before her birth.
In Paris and unsettled in her own skin, Emma, wearing a mask of makeup and another woman’s boots, sets off to find the phantom Rue Ste-Odile, her only clue to tracking down her birth parents. Here, Emma unearths a twin brother, Ilya, who welcomes her into his home—and the past.
Through her (now confirmed actual) father’s films, Emma sees resemblances of what she learns from Ilya to be her own family history, as Ilya, perhaps unintentionally, teaches her the meaning of family.
In a recent Q&A on the IU Press blog, Kercheval says the meaning of family is a central theme in all of her work.
My first novel, The Museum of Happiness, is an exploration of what it means to choose or create a family other than your birth family, and those themes reappear in My Life as a Silent Movie. Ivan is both part of Emma’s birth family and someone who becomes her chosen family. I have always felt the bond between siblings to be one of the strongest, and one that is not explored as often in contemporary American fiction as the parent-child relationship. Emma goes looking for her biological mother, but it is finding her brother that gives her a chance to be reborn. And I think Emma gives the same gift to Ilya.
My Life as a Silent Movie, both original and irresistible, is a flawless novel built around real-life film history and the importance of family. As a side note, Kercheval does an amazing job of capturing the beauty of Paris, or what I imagine it to be.