My mother, my family and Judaism are nested inside each other. I am Jewish and always Jewish; it's analogous with family, however hard it is, and however strained, it can never be disavowed... I remain, as my therapist put it, 'enmeshed', all tangled up in the family hoard. This book has been both a continuation of my conversations with them, and an attempt to untangle myself.
This is Joanne's account of coming to terms with her brother's suicide and through that process, the entirety of her family life. In Small Pieces Joanne explores her childhood, her Jewishness and her mother's death as well as that of her brother.
The life and family Joanne describes is a complex combination of conflicting influences - both scientific and literary; Jewish and humanist impulses; and middle America and North London settings.
Joanne Limburg is a British writer and poet based in Cambridge. She's published several volumes of poetry, and her debut novel was published in 2015.
Grief is a journey. That's what we're lead to believe at least, an unpleasant journey which no one wants to face, but one we're all sent on at various point during our lives.
For author Joanne Limburg, it's a journey she was sent on by the suicide of her brother - an unexpected event made even harder by the fact that he was the other side of the world from Joanne and her Mother at the time, meaning that her journey became both literal as well as mental. Tie into that thoughts and recollections of family life, as well an exploration and examining of the Jewish faith (something exacerbated by Joanne's brother having been cremated before they could arrive in America.
It would be easy for this to be a miserable, brutal read - with the author truly allowing the reader full immersion into her thoughts. As you may imagine, they're often raw - full of the rage, shock and despair that comes from such a horrific situation, but these are balanced well throughout, and Limburg is measured enough to not overwhelm the reader. Balancing the blackest moments of grief with touching, immediately relatable recollections and family moments allows Limburg to play with light and shade far more effectively that one may imagine given the subject matter, with a skill that prevents the reader from feeling too overcome by the situations depicted.
This is a book about death - both the journey from it and the journey to it, and one in which the subject is examined to an intense degree - with snippets of conversation and poetry that proved both haunting and enlightening to me.
I've experienced grief, but I certainly wasn't expecting to feel quite a strong a connection to the author as I did here, and I think that's due to her voice throughout the book - one clearly marked by pain, but always clear, relatable, and at all times original.
I won't say that this is an uplifting read - but I don't think that's the point of it at all. It's a fascinating exploration into a situation that, sadly, we'll all find ourselves in some variation of during our lives. Limburg has a unique and immensely gifted voice, and her willingness to convey immensely personal situations allows her to explore and ruminate on her subject matter, whilst her clear talent as a writer ensures that this book is always readable - and rewarding even at its toughest points. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.