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Debut novelist Miriam Polli has written an interwoven, multi-generational story, spanning four decades from the 1920s to the 1960s, of a grandmother who is a first-generation Polish American immigrant, her daughters, and her granddaughter.

The novel moves back and forth in time, juxtaposing the granddaughter Emily’s story with those of her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother. As you are drawn into the lives of each of these women and the choices they made, you slowly begin to realize the impact on each successive generation and in particular, on Emily.

As the grandmother is dying, a terrible family secret, one that dates from when Emily was just six weeks old, comes to light. How will this secret affect Emily’s life, once the truth is revealed?

This novel deals with difficult subjects, such as alcoholism, abuse, and mental illness, which can damage a family in ways that only become clear after decades. It is an intimate, touching portrait of the daily lives of resilient women who are forced to cope with these problems during a time when such diseases were little understood.

It is also a heart-warming, emotional depiction of the relationship between the matriarch of the family, the grandmother Marishka, and the granddaughter Emily. Polli has gifted us with exquisitely drawn characters who instantly become real people to us, drawing us into the beauty and tragedy of their lives.

Readers who enjoy novels spanning several generations of a family, providing glimpses into its collective consciousness, will enjoy this lovingly rendered story with its themes of cruelty, loss and ultimately, tenacity. Anyone who has experienced the fractures that can occur over time in a family will be deeply moved by the stories of these strong, intelligent women.

In a Vertigo of Silence by Miriam Polli resets the bar of excellence for debut literary women’s fiction.