Daughter of Here is an experiment in memory, desire, and time. As she sifts through her international whirlwind romance with Célestin, her larger-than-life love for her daughter Mo, and her own childhood behind the Iron Curtain, Dolores's narrative shifts from Williamsburg, to Tokyo, to Bucharest before and after the fall, and to Cairo at the first spark of the Arab Spring. Filmic and thought-provoking, this novel straddles the political and the personal.
I'm wearing that same dress on the jetty in a photograph taken on the Black Sea, in the town once called Callatis, near the Bulgarian border. From that picture I remember every single detail of the dress. The drop waist, the fine texture of the trim, the simple cut and elegance of the neckline and sleeves, just the right height. The dress divides my body, continuing the white line painted on the asphalt of the sea wall. The photographer is behind me. I'm walking alone, and skipping along the white line as if I were playing hopscotch. White rocks on either side flank the slightly raised paved walkway. The jetty is where fishermen meet, where families come out for a walk at the end of the afternoon. In the evenings it's a place for lovers. I am right in the middle, on the white line. * Since childhood I'd noted my mother's extravagances--like drinking champagne out of empty Bonne Maman jam jars. She called it Bad Mama. What drew me most of all was her woman-at-the-window pose. All at once she was far away, staring into the distance. I used to catch her drawing in the air with her fingers. I would follow the sinuous trace of her index and try to guess the meanings behind the graceful arabesques of her arms. What was she writing, what was it she could make out in the blue screen of the sky? Was it a letter to Habib, the lost love she secretly hoped would return? Did she, like me, read clouds whenever she could? For a split second, she was off, travelling on a flying carpet woven of words. * This is the prelude to the daily film of my life, open to the outside. The lead actors are the sun, a stubborn bird, and various figures from my memories and my projections. The interior gets lively when Mo bounces in, out, in dress-up clothes, or with a question or something to show me. Then there is that other protagonist, that absence so present, hidden behind the window, just out of sight. Since the various scenes playing through this living window first caught my eye, I haven't been able to stop watching the countless transformations orchestrated by a hand that has stayed invisible during my time here. * I will leave you a photograph too: the picture with the white dress. A little girl stands on a jetty on the Black Sea. She's wearing a white dress, the same dress she'll be wearing soon at a concert in Bucharest. She's against the middle of the wall, her back to the camera, half in profile. Her skin is darker than usual; the summer has been unusually sunny. Her frizzy hair is cut short, and it's dry from the salt and the sun. It's her last summer in Romania. Who knows what's going through her head. What she doesn't know is that soon she will find herself on a night train barrelling through tunnel after tunnel. She is walking toward the lighthouse at the end of the jetty, her mind elsewhere. The fishermen haven't arrived yet, with their reels and their bamboo rods. To the left, the child's shadow stretches long, but not the photographer's, who stays a good distance away. Mo, one day I will show you that dike in person. I'll take a picture of you at the same place, on the white line that splits the grey cement tongue. You can tuck it away in your pink silk-covered photo album. * I will show you the little house in the mountains, with two rooms. The window where on weekends I would wait for hours for my parents to come back, my nose glued to the glass until night fell, counting the headlights. The rectangle of pine trees that wrapped around the garden, which smelled so good. I would lay on my back, watching the sky, the trees like dark green giants. I would fall asleep, intoxicated by the smell of healthy evergreens, hypnotized by the movement of the clouds, on a wool blanket, a little rough, scratchy. I played with a duck, and made it fly over my head like a helicopter. At night, the cows came back to the village and the air smelled like dung, and like milk, dripping off udders. That photograph of me on the grey horse was taken not far from the house with the pine trees.