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Reviews of My Life as a Silent Movie


“In her latest novel, Kercheval (Brazil; Museum of Happiness) has painted a near-perfect portrait of grief and of the hope that can arise out of the ashes of despair. The book follows Emma, a woman in her early 40s who loses her husband and daughter in a terrible car accident and subsequently tries to rebuild her life. After learning she was adopted, Emma travels from New York to Paris and Moscow to find out about her real parents (a beguiling White Russian movie star and a passionate French communist) and along the way encounters unexpected surprises. As she searches for her true identity, Emma also tries to connect with those around her. Kercheval tells the story from a first-person perspective, and the painful yet exciting journey Emma takes is akin to a postmodern adult Alice in Wonderland. VERDICT Fans of literary fiction will devour this tale of heartbreak, family, and politics. At times, the book can feel a bit melodramatic and overly dark, but the haunting quality of Kercheval's writing makes this easy to forgive. This is a story not to be missed.

Library Journal


“In this sharply drawn chronicle of grief, a woman reassembles her identify through her father’s art and her brother’s tenuous offer of a new life. After her husband and 8-year-old daughter are killed in a car accident, Emma collapses. Nothing matters anymore—not her friends, not her home, not her carefully constructed life as a professor of creative writing. But then Aunt Zinnia drops another bombshell: Emma was adopted. Spontaneously, Emma catches the train for New York, hoping her former nanny, Apolline, has some answers. Apolline reveals that Emma’s parents were a beautiful French communist named Sophie-Anne and the renowned Russian silent film star Ivan Mosjoukine. Doubting that Mosjoukine could really be her father (after all, he allegedly died 10 years before her birth), Emma cannot so easily dismiss the evidence in the mirror: She has his burning blue eyes. She sets off for Paris, but instead of finding her mother, she finds her twin brother, Ilya, living in a nearly forgotten, nearly impossible-to-find house. Across the street, his neighbor sits outside every day, scowling and selling drugs to overworked physicians. Delighted to see Emma (whom he remembers as Vera), Ilya has his own demons, including the father who abandoned him, the mother who gave his twin sister away, and the tragic consequences of his ex-wife’s addiction. Emma intensifies her search for their father, discovering a chameleon of a man. And as she watches Mosjoukine’s old films, she sees reflections of their family saga. Much like a silent movie, Emma’s quest is composed of beautifully limned gestures and vividly sketched characters against the backdrops of contemporary and post–World War II Paris. Kercheval (Brazil, 2010, etc.) delves deeply into the rawest of emotions and the most wrenching of choices, richly detailing each twist and turn with grace.”

Kirkus Reviews


“Kercheval writes with clear economy, establishing a complicated plot with apparent effortlessness, and creating a less than strictly realistic narrative.... with sly wit and a wink at conventions that go beyond contemporary realism." —Erin McGraw, author of Better Food for a Better World: A Novel


“Provocative and playful,  My Life as a Silent Movie is a lean and, yes, cinematic novel about a grief stricken woman who escapes to Paris and soon discovers a series of secrets that both rattle and embolden her. A considerable achievement, this novel grapples with the unpredictable march of history and the way it affects the most intimate parts of our private lives. —Dean Bakopoulos, author of My American Unhappiness


“Jesse Lee Kercheval's precise and sharp new novel My Life as a Silent Movie shows us what happens in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy. Kercheval's prose is as clear as a silent film star's face, and the novel's twists and turns are wonderfully unexpected. Whether in Paris or in Indiana, readers will swoon.
—Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures


“Jesse Lee Kercheval brings a poet's precision to this suspenseful story of one woman's journey to find what is left of her family. My Life As A Silent Movie is a brilliant, heartbreaking page-turner.
—Jennifer Vanderbes, author of Easter Island and Strangers at the Feast.

“Wildly entertaining, fascinating, and deeply moving, My Life as a Silent Movie will make you fall in love all over again with Paris, the history of silent cinema, and the enduring, mysterious drama of being alive. I did not want it to end." —Holiday Reinhorn, author of Big Cats: Stories


A beautiful, evocative novel... Kercheval has that rare ability to bring a number of characters alive simultaneously on the page, to make us care about each one for their quirkiness, their hard luck stories and their equally hard-won wisdom. Readers will embrace this story as it melds the magic of old movies with the redemptive power of family. An original, poignant, and truly irresistible story for our time." —Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife: A Novel


“Jesse Lee Kercheval's precise and sharp new novel My Life as a Silent Movie shows us what happens in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy. Kercheval's prose is as clear as a silent film star's face, and the novel's twists and turns are wonderfully unexpected. Whether in Paris or in Indiana, readers will swoon.
—Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures