Who doesn’t want to know what’s hidden under their floorboards… ? History is literally dug up in The Smallest Objective.
Sharon Kirsch’s new book, The Smallest Objective, is both topical and universal. This intriguing narrative nonfiction examines the complexities of lives lived: a personal and literal spring-cleaning—the need to sift, take stock and filter for the important things; our concern for senior members of our family, and the consolation offered by staying close to loved ones even when we can’t reach them. Entrusted with her mother’s move to an assisted-living facility after fifty years in the same home, the author crafts an intricate literary memoir about the hidden recesses of a Montreal family (some at the fringes of the law), and the treasures that the past can bring in the face of a difficult present. Marking this passage in her life, the book is also a chronicle about mid-century Montreal. I
“While the days tentatively grew longer and my mother gradually was vanishing from my life, her house was delivering to me through its objects a family I’d never known.”
— The Smallest Objective
Many themes in The Smallest Objective reflect the current climate. This literary memoir examines lives lived; of having to take stock, a forced spring-cleaning, the opportunity to filter the important things. It’s about staying connected to loved ones who sometimes can’t be reached, metaphorically or physically, as Kirsch is separated from her mother with dementia living in a care home in another city, and is feeling heartache, anxiety and fear. The book boasts Montreal as a main character; describing the rich history of this vibrant city… as it will be again. This is an ideal time to read a book and be transported; immersed in other people, reflecting on parents and extended family, and the wild eccentrics who were only a hushed whisper…
The Smallest Objective is a story about the decline of a parent, and of the author’s reflection of this passage in life; but it is also a chronicle about mid-century Montreal and its Jewish community. As the narrator struggles with her mother’s failing memory, unexpected secrets come into focus and a layered legacy of willed forgetfulness is uncovered.
This first-person creative narrative produces unsettling discoveries about several local personalities as revealed by the things that survive them—a microscope and lantern slides, a postcard from Mexico, a worn recipe book, a nugget of fool’s gold, an envelope of yellowing newspaper clippings, and the obituary of a renowned black sheep in the family. In the end, packing and unpacking, the search yields both less and more than she ever imagined about this unique family, as well as the extent to which they were punctured and shaped by the muffled anti-Semitism of the time.
Kirsch is eager to introduce readers to several charismatic characters representing different stages in the immigrant experience, from a new immigrant brought to the city as a child to a second generation born in Canada, “My paternal grandfather was an accomplished botanist and an early leader of the Jewish community, whereas my great-uncle was a celebrated street personality who lived at the margins of the law. I believe I’m the first who can disclose anything of Jockey Fleming’s origins; no one who’s written about him knew his background, and it was even rumoured he was from the US,” she offered.
New Star Books Publisher Rolf Maurer was drawn to The Smallest Objective for what was ‘concealed beneath the floorboards’, riveted by Kirsch’s hinted secrets and depth of discovery, “This is a book about the Kirsch family, but it is foremost a book about the events and attitudes of the day that distorted both her grandfather’s and her great-uncle’s lives, as well as the darker and more tragic aspects of peoples’ existence. As with any great memoir, the real gold is in the stories that the narrator encounters in settling her own account,” he said. For Maurer, the book is set apart from the mainstream of contemporary memoirs which can tend towards self-absorption, adding, “Sharon’s field of vision embraces the forces which have shaped the family; there’s worldliness, a ‘European sensibility’ in her work.” For further insights into Kirsch’s story, check out her blog.