In this memoir-novel, a narrator who resembles Hélène Cixous obsessively recounts an incident--the premature death of her first-born child, a Down Syndrome baby left in the care of the clinic in Algeria where her midwife mother works. She uses this event to probe her family history and her relationship with her mother, a refugee from Nazi Germany; her dead father, after whom the baby is named; and her medical-student brother, who takes on some of the duties of a father figure.
Cixous's elusive writing bears all the trademarks of her poetic, provocative style, vivid with word play, intense feeling and a stream-of-consciousness that moves freely over time and place. The narrator's mother claims not to remember what happened, and the brother tries to fill in some gaps in the story. By the end of the book we understand the significance of the title: one day Cixous's mother returned to the clinic to find the baby on the brink of death. Rather than attempt to save him she chose to end his suffering.
By closing the door to the imaginary clinic at the end, the narrator at last resolves the feelings of guilt and realizes that each human being has a fate they must endure. Informed by psychoanalytical theory, and always brutally honest, The Day I Wasn't There is above all an intimate study of a woman's inner landscape.
Rosette on Goodreads wrote:
Cixous' effort straddles essay and memoir, it is strident and yet remains strophic. It plumbs the distortions of memory in order to frame the short life of her first child, one born with Down's Syndrome. This is sensitive ground for me. What results is a meditation on the definition of life and humanity and whether the edges of both are blurred by pragmatics.
It is often inconvenient to have only a dozen pages left when departing for a trip. It helped in this matter that the book was so slight. Cixous maintains a tension, she is of two minds about the legacy of her dead son. I kept that struggle alive for a few days during my conference in New York. I am thankful for that.
Surrealist semi-autobiographical fiction about time in her life that the author's retarded child died. Scenes of Paris, Algeria. Author is French, born in Algeria. Unusual style with heightened realism