‘This family chronicle, which takes us from the May 1968 protests to the 1981 elections, is as much a tender and tragic stroll through the 20th century as it is the chronicle of an era, where consciousnesses are awakening to the upheaval of the world, and heralding the chaos to come.’
– Daughters Beyond Command
[ About the Book ]
Sabine dreams of living as an artist in Paris; Hélène has grown up living between her middle-class aunt and uncle and her more modest parents; Mariette is learning the secrets of the crazy world around her. Daughters Beyond Command follows the evolution of a modest, Catholic family living in Aix-en-Provence between May 1968 and the momentous election of Francois Mitterrand in 1981.
The young Malvieri sisters watch on as French society changes and women gradually gain their freedom, while men seem to lose their way. The three each find their own means of succeeding in this new world and living an independent life, free from the morals, education and religion of their childhood. Their story resonates all the more poignantly as many of these freedoms, as established as we may have thought they were, are now under threat.
[ My Review ]
Daughters Beyond Command by Véronique Olmi was published September 29th with Europa Editions UK and is excellently translated from the French by Alison Anderson. It is described as ‘an absorbing bildungsroman that tells the story of three sisters amidst France’s rapid transformation in the 1970s‘
Sabine, Hélène, and Mariette Malvieri are three sisters from Aix-en-Provence. Their parents, Bruno and Agnès, married young and have always held very strong Catholic beliefs. Their view of French society is strongly influenced by their religion, leaving them sometimes perplexed with the changes that are evident around them. The 1960s was a decade that saw a big shift in the way people thought and now with a new decade on the horizon a different future is palpable.
Sabine, the eldest of the three, dreams of a life in Paris, mixing with a more bohemian crowd and gaining her independence away from the stifling atmosphere of life in Aix-en-Provence. She has an ambition to become an actress and is adamant, no matter the desires of her parents, that this wish will become her reality.
Hélène is the middle child and has an alternative upbringing to her sisters. Her mother’s sister is married and living a more comfortable life in Paris. Every year Hélène divides her time between her own family home in Aix-en-Provence and that of her aunt’s home in Paris. This unusual childhood leaves Hélène somewhat at odds with her sisters. Every time she returns home, she must assimilate back into life in a more subdued environment following the more salubrious lifestyle of her aunt and uncle. This situation colours Hélène’s views on life, challenging her at times when in conversations with her family. She interprets life differently, having seen it, from such a young age, from both sides of the fence. Hélène has a special relationship with her uncle in Paris which remains so as the years pass, allowing her opportunities that are very different to those of her siblings.
Mariette, the youngest, is introduced to the reader as a sickly child, a weak child, always needing more care than her two older sisters. They look out for Mariette, but she feels the distance between them as they mature and their opinions become more individual, their views more challenging. Mariette watches and listens, absorbing all that surrounds her, taking in the changes that are happening both inside and outside the family home.
Bruno and Agnès observe their children as they grow and develop into teenagers and, as the years pass, into adulthood. During this time, their own personal relationship evolves. They experience huge upheaval as they face into an ever-changing political and social climate. From 1968 right up to 1981, the lives of the Malvieri family are like the ebb and flow of society. Their fluctuating family views are in parallel with the constant shift of perspective on a more global scale, with Véronique Olmi taking the reader on an extraordinary journey through these tumultuous years of France’s history.
Daughters Beyond Command is a fascinating, absorbing and complex novel. Through the eyes and experiences of the Malvieri family, Olmi immerses her readers right into the heart of a constantly changing society. A very polished and remarkable read, Daughters Beyond Command focuses very much on the emancipation of women, with Olmi highlighting the parallel confusion of men in a rapidly changing world. Politics, family, conservatism, and social upheaval are among many of the themes featured throughout the book, all expertly handled by Olmi. Daughters Beyond Command is a beautiful, informative and stylish read that is superbly written by Véronique Olmi, a book I highly recommend to all looking for an intelligent and perceptive reading experience.
[ Bio ]
Véronique Olmi was born in 1962 in Nice and now lives in Paris. She is an acclaimed French dramatist and her twelve plays have won numerous awards. Olmi won the Prix Alain-Fournier emerging artist award for her 2001 novella Bord de Mer. It has since been translated into all major European languages.