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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

An Exclusive Love

Johanna Adorján

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase An Exclusive Love

Title: An Exclusive Love
Author: Johanna Adorján
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: German
Availability: An Exclusive Love - US
An Exclusive Love - UK
An Exclusive Love - Canada
Un amour exclusif - France
Eine exklusive Liebe - Deutschland
  • A Memoir
  • German title: Eine exklusive Liebe
  • Translated by Anthea Bell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : difficult material, well handled

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 11/9/2010 Bill Perrett
FAZ . 14/1/2009 Sandra Kegel
The Independent . 18/3/2011 Lucy Popescu
The Observer . 13/3/2011 Mina Holland
Die Zeit . 26/2/2009 Ursula März

  From the Reviews:
  • "Adorjan’s most vivid device for capturing her subjects is not the inadequate attempts to uncover the facts of the past but episodes, interspersed regularly, from a detailed reconstruction of her grandparents’ last day together. It’s a risky business." - Bill Perrett, The Age

  • "So entstehen wie in einem Puzzle bald an dieser, bald an jener Stelle verblüffende Zusammenhänge, während andernorts fehlende Teile blinde Flecken hinterlassen. Dass die Autorin nicht müde wird, nach diesen Rätseln zu fragen, dass sie überhaupt alles, mutig und mit beißendem Witz, stets aufs Neue hinterfragt, macht ihr Buch über einen düsteren Sonntag zu einem glänzenden Stück." - Sandra Kegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Yet despite Adorján's admirable research, I couldn't help but feel frustrated that her subjects remain, to the last, just out of reach." - Lucy Popescu, The Independent

  • "The book's progression resembles the grieving process, however, allowing its author finally to lay the tragedy to rest. Its title is Adorján's conclusion: the simple, beautiful fact behind her grandparents' relationship, encapsulated in the final police description of them" - Mina Holland, The Observer

  • "An keiner Stelle entsteht der Eindruck, hier wolle eine Zeitungsfrau der jüngeren Generation mittels ihrer sensationellen Familiengeschichte der Welt beweisen, dass und wie doll sie auch Literatur kann. (...) Und hier gelingt Johanna Adorján etwas Besonderes: eine Mischung aus journalistischer, moderner, mitunter zeitgeisthafter, mitunter ironischer Saloppheit und ganz leichter Distinguiertheit. Forsch und dabei zurückhaltend nähert sich Johanna Adorján ihrem Stoff." - Ursula März, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       An Exclusive Love begins:

On 13 October 1991 my grandparents killed themselves.
       Her grandfather was ailing and presumably did not have long to live, and her grandmother did not want to survive him. They had apparently planned their suicide-pact long beforehand, and had made careful preparations (closely following the instructions in Derek Humphry's manual, Final Exit -- a copy of which Adorján obtains in the course of her research, from Amazon.com; her grandparents had a bit more difficulty getting their hands on the book).
       An Exclusive Love -- subtitled, in the English (though not in the original German), A Memoir -- alternates between Adorján's own experiences as she tries to learn more about her grandparents' lives and deaths and her re-creation of their last day -- plausible enough, even as to the details, but Adorján certainly (and literally) puts words into their mouths (i.e. there's some artistic license at work here).
       The grandfather was a Hungarian doctor; Jewish, he was also a survivor of Mauthausen -- though he never talked about what he experienced there. (He was a bit more forthcoming about his experiences in the Korean war, where he was a doctor on the North Korean side, but unfortunately not much more.) The couple left Hungary in 1956, winding up in Denmark, where they enjoyed a more peaceful and easier life, with the grandfather continuing to work successfully as a doctor.
       The 'exclusive' of the title refers to the love between the two suicides: while loving parents and grandparents, Adorján suggests the love between them was something entirely their own; hence also their need and desire to die together.
       There's considerable distance between the events and the writing of this book (first published in German in 2009) -- and this lack of immediacy is felt throughout the book, not just regarding the suicides but also the grandparents' other experiences, such as during World War II. Implicit, too, is the understanding that any greater immediacy would be too much to take, in either case. Adorján talks to old friends and acquaintances, trying to piece together her grandparents' lives, but even where she has first-hand knowledge acknowledges the difficulty of getting any true understanding.
       Adorján has a nice touch with small details, such as when she describes her grandparents bringing their pet dog to someone who can take care of it before they kill themselves: she imagines a fly in the car, mentions the dog's peculiar reaction to driving ("She always gets completely out of breath during a drive, evidently under the impression that she is covering the distance on foot as the surroundings outside the window move past. It is impossible to take her on long journeys; a drive on the autobahn once almost killed her"), and the way her grandfather has to ask directions on the very familiar drive ("On his own he can find his way perfectly well, but once my grandmother is with him he feels uncertain").
       Despite knowing all along what's coming, An Exclusive Love is a touching portrait. Yes, it does feel a bit ghoulish, but on the whole Adorján's handling of the material and events, and the presentation, is quite successful. Adorján shows that, no matter how close one is to someone, even family, it is difficult to truly know them -- though these two certainly did not hide their intentions (indeed, one wishes Adorján had probed that more closely, though perhaps the guilt of those who were aware of their attitudes is still to overwhelming to confront head-on).
       A different sort of family memoir, An Exclusive Love works best as a coming-to-terms confessional by a young woman faced with such events. As to her grandparents' actions, she chooses (understandably) to see them as motivated by love -- the most comforting excuse for what they did to themselves and their loved ones. Adorján shows herself to be a talented writer -- though one may want to ask whether that fictional facility, of staging everything right (after the fact) hasn't made it all a bit too easy a way of dealing with the ugliness of suicide.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 November 2010

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An Exclusive Love: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German-writing author Johanna Adorján was born in Stockholm in 1971.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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