As her son Solal sits at the kitchen table one evening, Lise Marzouk spots an unusual growth in his mouth. The lump is cancerous. Her world shatters. When the 10-year-old is admitted to the Curie Institute for lymphoma treatment, she discovers that to be the mother of a sick child is to juggle “between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between normality and anarchy”. And so she writes of her unspeakable distress and gnawing doubts, of the brief moments of joy and tenderness.

Unflinchingly, she chronicles Solal’s ordeal and her own irreconcilable tug-of-war between hospital and home, where she must put on a brave face for her two other children. To and froing between first- and third-person narrative, she lays bare the sheer relentlessness of a life lived in complete stasis; each harrowing chapter made all the more poignant by her determination to eschew the traditional “I” and her stubborn detachment (no doubt to keep despair at bay).

Wrenchingly honest and bound by a halting sense of urgency and dogged hope, If is a startling hymn to love.

If: A Mother’s Memoir, by Lise Marzouk, published by Other Press

From France Today magazine. For more France Today book reviews, click here

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