Quick, before you get sick of the three-strand novel (since The Hours, it seems like everybody's doing it), have a look at this powerful book about art, the Holocaust and grief.Theatre critic Kate Taylor's debut shows a lot of ambition. She makes the fictional diaries of Jeanne Proust, mother of Marcel, her centrepiece, concentrating on entries written between the years 1890 and 1905. Woven among these are the stories of Sarah, sent to Canada from Paris in 1942 just days before her parents are shipped off to Auschwitz, and of Marie, who's translating the Jeanne Proust diaries in the present and gets involved with Sarah's son Max.
There are heavy themes here, including, obviously, anti-Semitism (Jeanne Proust was Jewish, and the Dreyfus Affair dominates the diaries), the artist as selfish parasite, mothers who over-dote on their sons (in the cases of Marcel and Max for good reason), but Taylor handles them with the kind of subtlety and skill you don't expect from a new fiction writer.
Other things give her away. Her themes relating to translation and the language issue in Canada deserve a novel on their own; first novelists always want to cram every issue that matters into one book.
And she overwrites at times, saying something with multiple clauses that could have been expressed just fine in a simple declarative sentence. Writing historical fiction is a risk: the heft of the subject matter can fool a writer into thinking it requires ponderous prose.
But that flaw doesn't turn up very often, and after a slow 25 pages the story starts to rip right along.
Jeanne Proust is a real discovery, a strong woman who has a sense of justice but doesn't quite grasp the historical moment. Her son Marcel you will want to strangle. And Sarah, who creates the kosher kitchen of the title, is a revelation.
She makes this book a key contribution to the growing literature about the children of the Holocaust.
Taylor reads at Harbourfront Centre Wednesday (March 12). See readings, this page, for details. SUSAN G. COLE
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Mme. Proust And The Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor (Doubleday), 414 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN