Book of My Mother


Translated from by

Published: April 2012



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“Albert Cohen defies classification. Born in Corfu, raised in France, holder of a passport issued by the Ottoman Empire until he was twenty-four, when he became a Swiss citizen, he claimed his true homeland was the French language…. In many ways, [Book of My Mother] remains a wartime book written by an exile. But it is much more than this. Cohen turns his grief into a meditation on human solitude. We each become islands, worn down by circumstance and the hostility of other people. But we are also very diligent architects of our own isolation, for we deny love through our own selfishness. Cohen may chide his mother… but he is much harder on himself…. The book is a study in guilt, an act of contrition, for in mourning his mother he grieves for his own lost childhood… [It] is an achingly honest, autumnal book, generous in its humanity, composed with art but without guile, the sincerest tribute of a neglectful son…. And in translating her husband’s prose into sly, poetic, incantatory English, Bella Cohen… has reunited him with words, his true homeland.”  —from David Coward’s introduction

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Book Description

Shortly after Albert Cohen left France for London to escape the Nazis, he received news of his mother’s death in Marseille. Unable to mourn her, he expressed his grief in a series of moving pieces for La France libre, which later grew into Book of My Mother. Achingly honest, intimate, and moving, this love song is a tribute to all mothers. Cohen himself expressed, “I shall not have written in vain if one of you, after reading my hymn of death, is one evening gentler with his mother because of me and my mother.”

Brilliant ... Straight out of French farce ... A miracle of patience and suppleness . . . A phantasmagoric display of a certain view of the world.

London Review of Books

I read Livre de ma mere twice. This heartrending book haunts you. I just had to go back to it.

Emile Henriot, Academic Francaise, Le Monde

A most moving and delicate love song.

Le Figaro

You must read this extraordinary testimony of a son. Never before has a writer spoken of his mother like Albert Cohen.

Andre Billy, Acaademie Goncourt, Le Figaro

A masterpiece. A book that is unique and will endure. A most beautiful love story.

Marcel Pagnol

I do not think anyone has ever written anything more beautiful, more deeply and soberly moving, about a mother and the feelings of tenderness, veneration, regret and even remorse which she can inspire.

Roger Giron, Le Voix du Nord

One of the most beautiful love stories ever written.


You must read this book.

Jacques Brenner, Paris-Normandie

A gold-plated, cherry-on-top classic in France ... Characters [are] rendered with eye-popping, Rabelaisian detail and touching vulgarity ... Its unspooling comedy of manners; its first-ideal-then-smothering love affair all lead the reader to still-huger questions: how can we love humans, obsessed as they are with power? How can we reconcile reason and faith?

The Kenyon Review

That anything so sad can also be witty and sublimely comic makes Mrs. Cohen [the mother] into a triumph of literature.

Nick DiMartino, Shelf Awareness

A preview of Jack I. Abecassis’ study of Albert Cohen, entitled Albert Cohen: Dissonant Voices

An excerpt from Book of My Mother in The Paris Review

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