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The Children’s House

by Alice Nelson

Marina, ‘the gypsy scholar’ a writer and academic and her psychoanalyst husband Jacob were each born on Kibbutzes in Israel. Their families moved to America when their children were young.
When they meet at a university in California, Marina is a grad-student and Jacob is a successful practitioner and teacher and has a young son, Ben, from a disastrous marriage. The family moves to a brownstone in Harlem, formerly a small convent and shelter run by nuns.

Marina has a loving relationship with Ben but has not been able to conceive her own child. Constance, a young refugee from Rwanda, who knows the house from when the nuns occupied it, comes to rely on Marina’s growing attachment to and care for her son, Gabrielle.

After dropping out of college Ben is unmoored and comes to work at the local grocery store where he befriends a young woman who is an undocumented immigrant.
After learning that Gizela, Marina’s long disappeared mother has died, Jacob and his tight knit loving family, Ben and Alma, Constance and Gabrielle all join Marina in her mother’s former home to celebrate Christmas, coming together, and the unusually structured family they have formed.

Alice Nelson skilfully weaves together these shared stories of displacement and trauma into a beautifully told hope-filled and outstanding novel.

About Alice Nelson

Alice Nelson is an award-winning author. She is the recipient of the T. A. G. Hungerford Award and the "Sydney Morning Herald" Best Young Australian Novelist of the Year award.



    The language of Alice Nelson’s The Children’s House has the textual spareness associated with Marilynne Robinson and Colm Toibin but to this quality, Nelson adds a film of breathtaking lyricality. It is a watercolour-thin layering brushed translucently over her pages. The delicacy of this wash of hues, augments and supports the alluring artistry of her prose rather than detracting from a spell-binding narrative.

    Constance, a refugee from the Rwandan genocide, uprooted to live a numbed half-life in New York is with me still. Likewise is the broken Holocaust survivor Gizela who, after a blessed and secure childhood in Prague, is wandering through the wilderness in a permanent state of detachment. Yet despite the horrors of Constance and Gizela’s experiences, The Children’s House is peopled with subjects who inhabit a colourful, warm and fulfilling existence. They are imbued with authenticity, propelling a reader along a path of discovery while touching their heart.

    This exquisite tale of longing, loss, love, and displacement in the world is also hope-filled. There is such an overwhelming depth of intense, rich and complex interiority to be found in the lives of Nelson’s characters. Their voices continue to reverberate within the reader, long after the novel’s end.

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