I was not familiar with Margaret McMullan, so it was a surprise to find her in the Mississippi section at the newly re-opened Pass Christian Books. The book’s cover, title and brief synopsis intrigued me. Why is she a Mississippi writer? First, let’s discuss the book.
The author spent five years researching and writing In My Mother’s House. The book is fiction but was inspired by McMullan’s maternal great grandmother. The story is an interwoven narrative between a young woman and her mother and moves from pre-World War II Vienna, Austria, to the United States a generation later. The theme is a daughter’s (Elizabeth) desire to understand her mother’s (Jenny) silence about their family’s experiences during the war.
The cover of my copy of the book features two silver spoons of ornate, old-fashioned patterns. They represent the few heirlooms the family was able to save in their flight to escape Nazi-dominated Vienna. Jenny’s grandmother mails pieces of this silver flatware to her as her life is ending in a Washington, D.C., nursing home. Piece by piece, Jenny’s memories are awakened: the large, beautiful home in Vienna; her uncle’s viola d’amore lessons; the smell of the wood floors; the friends left behind; and the family’s secrets.
Jenny is haunted by the family’s secrets and committed to remaining silent about them. Elizabeth wants to know her mother’s family’s true identity and the extent of their war time experiences. It’s a haunting story; a journey beautifully told as it moves between the generations.
McMullan was born in 1960 in Newton, but moved at age 10 with her family to Chicago. She earned a degree in religious studies at Grinnell College and a master’s of fine arts in fiction at the University of Arkansas.
There are numerous references made to Mississippi in the book. McMullan served as the Eudora Welty Visiting Writer at Millsaps College and in 2005 was honored with the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She currently is an English professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana. She is also the author of When Warhol Was Still Alive and the young adult novel How I Found the Strong.