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When Mother and Daughter are too, too close

The Secret (Public Affairs, $25.00), Eva Hoffman’s long-awaited first novel, marks a radical departure from Hoffman’s previous works of memoir and historical non-fiction, in which she explores her life as an uprooted Polish Jewish refugee in North America. This book is a tale that blends scientific the story of a young girl’s coming of age, set in the not so distant, hyper-virtual future. Iris Surrey believes she is an ordinary girl growing up with her affluent mother in a Midwestern college town. They share an almost telepathic connection, and Iris senses that their physical likeness is also unusual. They are like sisters, “identical twins who by some fluke were aging at different speeds. “Despite their closeness. Iris does not know simple facts about her background. And when she starts to search for clues, she discovers the unthinkable. Iris is a clone, a product of genetic engineering, created at a commercial laboratory from a sampling of her mother’s DNA.

Iris begins to see herself as inhuman, a soulless monstrosity because she is a “genetic copy.” Iris’s identity crisis may seem like a science fiction fairy tale, but the existential predicaments she faces while trying to carve out her own unique existence can feel familiar to us all. This is a psychological story exploring the nature of subjectivity in the twenty first century. Hoffman creates an eerie picture of a future society, where tinkering with life has become a part of consumer culture.  

Deborah Osmond lives in Montreal. Her articles have appeared in academic publications on Jewish and British history and in The Globe and Mail.