In Brief: On Chapel Sands; Nobody Will Tell You This But Me – reviews

A gripping memoir by Laura Cumming along with a touching tribute to a Brooklynite grandmother

On Chapel Sands
Laura Cumming

Vintage, £9.99, 320pp

In 1929, the author’s mother, then three, went missing from a Lincolnshire beach where she was playing beside her mother. Five days later, she was found unharmed, just 12 miles way, and brought home. As Cumming’s transfixing account of family secrets reveals, the initial mystery shielded another, more profound puzzle, and the true explanation for the disappearance took decades to emerge. Art critic that she is, she picks up her cues from pictures – in this instance, the family photo album, in which she finds averted gazes and evasive expressions, gaps and absences, all of which help point to betrayals and deceptions that the quiet village of Chapel St Leonards kept hidden. To an extent, the deceit was rooted in social hypocrisies characteristic of interwar Britain, but the book also invites us to consider the extent to which propaganda plays a role in every family saga. Currently Waterstones nonfiction book of the month, this is a scrupulous work of storytelling, radiant with profound empathy and filial affection.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
Bess Kalb

Virago, £14.99, 224pp

In this Jewish “matrilineal love story”, TV writer Bess Kalb channels the voice of her Brooklynite late grandmother, the irrepressible Bobby Bell. Her “as told to” oral history is woven from voicemails, phone calls and stories like the one in which Bell’s mother fled the pogroms of 1880s Belarus for America, aged just 12 and travelling entirely alone. Bell was a fiercely devoted grandparent, flying weekly from Palm Beach, Florida, to New York to babysit. Her meddlesome, opinionated advice to her grown granddaughter ran from lipstick shades to where to live, all of it grounded in a steeliness that’s encapsulated by advice passed down the generations: “If the earth is cracking behind you right up to your heels, you put one foot in front of the other. You keep going. Nothing’s as important as moving forward.” Full of bittersweet cheek and wisecracking wisdom, it’s an ideal tonic for anyone missing elderly relatives.

• To order Nobody Will Tell You This But Me go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15

Contributor

Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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