Nancy Huston ‘Fault Lines’


One thing my parents agree on is that no one should hit me, smack me or give me any type of corporal punishment. It’s because they’ve read a lot of books where beaten children become violent parents, abused children become paedophiles and children who have been raped become whores and pimps. So they say that it’s always important to talk and talk and talk, to ask a child why he’s behaving badly and to let him explain before showing him gently how to choose to act in a more appropriate manner next time. Never hit him.***


We met Nancy Huston at a book event in Massy back in 2012 along with Mohamed Kacimi. It only took me two years to read the Kacimi but despite the fact that she had dedicated her book it took me eight years to get around to reading this powerful work. A couple of words on Nancy Huston, she is Canadian and writes in French and English, she also translates her own books, a not so common feat.

Onto the book, Huston tells us the story of a family spanning four generations, it couldn’t span five, and the impact the previous generations have on the next generations, the sudden shifts in the tectonic plates of their family’s history that shakes their life. She tells the story backwards as we see the effects before we learn of the causes. In the four generations there are four narrators, with each narrator being six years old at the time of the events he relates, the story begins then with Sol, a child of the twenty first century living in California who tells us in the opening quotes about his education. The two seismic events in his six year old life are the operation he has to remove a benign birth mark from the temple region of his head and the visit to Munich with his parents, his grand mother and his great grandmother to visit this latest’s sister.

His father Randall’s life is up ended in 1982 when his mother Sadie, a converted Jew insists on taking her family from Manhattan to Haïfa as she pursues her doctorate studies concerning the second world war. His father Aron, did not want to leave Manhattan. Randall  quickly picks up Hebrew and befriends a Palestinian girl at his school, but this is the time of the war in Lebenon and the Sabra and Shatila massacre where the Israeli Defense force at best stood by and did not intevene. These were confusing times for this intelligent six year old who wanted to show his mother, Sadie, that he understood what was happening around him:


I really liked the moment where Samson is so angry with Delilah for her treachery the he pushes apart the columns of the temple until the building colapses killing everybody. “It’s just like the human bombs in Israel at the moment!” I say, proud to show granny that I know a little bit about her country, but she shakes her head as she says: ” No, not at all, it’s really not the same thing at all!”***


We then follow Sadie in 1962, the year she leaves her strict grand parents in Toronto to live with her mother, Kristina, who is on the brink of becoming a famous singer, singing with sounds but not words, In Manhattan. Sadie is a very insecure child partly due to her grandparents who’s favourite dish is “culpability” as Kristina tells her, and Sadie also has a birthmark but on her bottom. Sadie’s life begins to settle into normalness, as she tells us of her sunday mornings spent with her stepfather, Peter, a Jew, in delicatessens. And then one sunday when Peter is away a stranger turns up speaking with a heavy accent and she hears her mother speaking in a foreign language. Her life is blown apart by what happens.

And finally back to Kristina’s story and the sounds without words.

A book about violence barbary and the energy of the narrators despite this, at the age of 6 and after. If you can find it, read it!

First Published in French as “Lignes de Faille” in 2006, in France by Actes Sud
Translated into english by Nancy Huston and published as “Fault Lines” by Black Cat in 2008
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Une chose sur laquelle mes parents sont d’accord, c’est que personne ne doit me taper, me fesser ou m’infliger toute autre forme de châtiment corporel. C’est parce qu’ils ont lu beaucoup de livres où on voit les enfants battus se transformer en parents violents, les enfants abusés en pédophiles et les enfants violés en putes et macs. Alors ils disent que c’est important de toujours parler, parler, parler, demander à l’enfant quelles sont les motivations pour sa mauvaises conduite et le laisser s’expliquer avant de lui montrer, gentiment, comment faire un choix plus approprié la prochaine fois. Ne jamais le frapper.

J’apprécie surtout le moment où Samson est tellement furieux contre Dalila pour sa trahison qu’il pousse les colonnes du temple jusqu’à ce que l’édifice s’écroule sur lui en tuant tout le monde. “C’est comme les bombes humaines en Israël en ce moment!” Je dis, fier de montrer à mamie que je connais un peu son pays, mais elle secoue la tête en disant: “Pas du tout! Ce n’est pas du tout la même chose!”

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