This is an elegant and literary biography retelling the story of the author’s eccentric parents. One slowly begins to understand who Poum and Alexandre are – at first seeming strange, bewildering, and at times unlikeable, but as the story unfolds one tendril at a time, one feels sad at the ultimate tragedy. There is the sadness of a child who did not seem to be parented, but who retells the story of her parents in an almost detached way, bringing them to vivid life as flawed but intense people who experience life differently.
In all of this, Paris is the charming, fabled backdrop to a narrative that seems like a fable itself at times as it replays situations and conversations from the point of view of the child, Catherine de Saint Phalle. There are many conversations around art and literature and history, but a sadness that pervades it all.
The book opens with, “My mother, Marie-Antoinette, likes strange and sad things”, and Catherine fantasizes about taking her mother to a house she has painted and fixed, and “We will live there together, my mother and I, in this secret house where she will be happy at last and talk to me and explain who she truly is”.
“Poum and Alexandre” is a biography with a difference, and recommended, not just for the story but for the way it is told. It will resonate with anyone who has lived with people who walk to a different beat, perhaps because of mental illness, or because of what life has thrown at them.