My Mother Was a Bag Lady

No,  *my*  mother wasn’t a bag lady. I’m talking about the book by Josiane Behmoiras that I have just finished reading. What a difference a title makes. This was first published with the title “Dora B: A Memoir of My Mother” and I doubt if I would have given it a second glance. The original cover was quite garish, unlike this monochromatic, muted 1950s snap of a mother and young child on a beach. It’s no good telling me not to judge a book by its cover because that’s exactly what i will do. And I’m sucker for an intriguing title.

The book is deceptively simple, moving day by day through the life of a single Jewish mother and her child. It is no surprise to learn that the author has been a documentary maker; she chronicles the life of her and her mother well. But this is no sensationalist reportage of the horrors of living a life of poverty and alienation, rather the warmth of the mother-daughter relationship emerges despite our realisation that Behmoiras’ mother has probably suffered from mental illness throughout her whole life, a mental illness  which at times has brought them both into danger.

As we reach the end of her mothers life she writes, “I kneel on the floor by Dora’s bed I hold her hand and start singing to her the lullaby she used to sing to me in Paris, a long time ago: ‘Do do, l’enfant, do’ … Sleep, sleep, child, sleep. My mother joins me, and we sing in two voices: ‘L’enfant dormira bientot.’ The child will soon be asleep.

I have not experienced anything like the life of Josiane and her mother, Dora but I have been present at my own dying mother’s bedside, singing to her the soothing Taize chant, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” The two halves of a relationship have swapped places and the younger is fervently wishing for an end to the life of the person with whom she has the strongest bond.

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