In Rebecca Goodman’s novel Forgotten Night (Spuyten Duyvil, 296 pages) the unnamed narrator–we will call her N hereafter–is searching desperately but determinedly for a Madame Brissac. The reader is immediately enlisted in the search and will never leave N’s side, not even after putting the novel down. The night of the title may be forgotten, but this novel will remain forever in memory, a touchstone whenever World War I or the Holocaust is recalled.
N is one of those people you are irresistibly drawn to but are wary of. You are afraid for her. She knows that she’s looking for Madame Brissac, a name that has come to her from her grandfather Joseph’s tattered diary of WWI. But N is not an adept seeker, inquiring here and there, assailed by distractions, often in the form of artists of dubious motives. Nor is it clear in the beginning exactly what she hopes to learn from Madame Brissac. Who is Madame Brissac anyway? She would be a descendant of a fellow youth N’s grandfather encountered in 1907 in flight from Romania, where a peasant uprising focused its hatred on Jews. Does N find Madame Brissac? That is for each reader to decide, because Madame Brissac is not merely a person. She is the bearer of N’s hope that out of the senseless carnage of WWI and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust some meaning will emerge.