The Atlantic

Reconstructing the Memories of Aging Matriarchs

Two recent novels attempt to unearth the pasts of forgetful family members, weighing the benefits of storytelling for older and younger generations.
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People tend to build themselves on family history, yet the myths that multiply within every family reveal that history’s malleability. Two recent novels—Juliet Grames’s debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, and Leah Hager Cohen’s Strangers and Cousins—illustrate this dynamic, the families within each grappling with a matriarch who has lost her memory. Though the characters’ attempts to piece together the stories of their elders read in part as a way of recognizing these forgetful and forgotten women, the process affirms the identities of the younger generations even more, by endowing them with a history—whether imagined or not—that can guide their present.

In , the act of telling a story on a relative’s behalf raises questions

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