Q&A With 'Someone Not Really Her Mother's' Harriet Scott Chessman

So, in this sense, my research about Alzheimer's has been ongoing in an informal way for much of my life. Like so many of us, I've listened to story after story about people whose spouses or parents have had Alzheimer's. My own grandmother most likely had it, she certainly had senile dementia, and now my mother-in-law is in the early stages. I've had dozens of conversations with people whose memory fades in and out in ways that are disconcerting and sometimes saddening.

In addition, I've read some excellent books and articles about Alzheimer's or related dementias. Michael Ignatiev's memoir "Scar Tissue," for instance, offers a son's perception of his mother's fading into Alzheimer's. Jonathan Franzen has written movingly about his father's dementia in an essay published in "The New Yorker," and he's offered an intricate and beautiful portrait of a fictional father with Parkinson's, in his novel "The Corrections."

I also read as much as I could about the medical side of Alzheimer's. Yet, in a larger way, I hope to suggest in this novel that Alzheimer's can be understood as a metaphor about a cultural form of memory loss. My story includes a wider contemplation of our tendency as a culture to wish to forget, to ignore history, to live in the present and future tense, with little reference to the past.

I think I decided to make my character Hannah Jewish and European partly because the question of remembering comes into vivid relief when what's at issue is something as monumental and terrifying as the Shoah.

The twentieth century, so modern and enlightened in certain ways, has been terrifyingly immoral too, as I'm afraid the twenty-first century promises to be as well, with brutal wars and continuing nationalistic schemes of "ethnic cleansing."

To think of a nation being "cleansed" a frightening word in its own right, of whole huge groups of people, this is part of the insanity of living in the world now. Hannah's urge to forget is our own. We need the courage and passion of figures like Ida, who won't allow the forgetting to continue, who stand up in outrage and protest, and who can envision the kind of genuine cleansing that comes with accurate memory.

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