The Measure of Silence

Written by Elizabeth Langston
Review by Fiona Alison

When President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it changed lives across America. Langston uses this seminal moment as her starting point for a series of tragic events in The Measure of Silence. In the present day, Jessica and Raine are adult sisters whose Papa (grandfather) has just passed away. Their grandmother, Mimi, has been in a dementia home for several years. Sometimes she knows them; mostly she doesn’t. Raine and Jessica’s father, a lawyer, has been entrusted with a key to Papa’s close-held secrets, setting the sisters on the trail of things Papa felt his granddaughters should know. As they follow the meandering path of old photographs, 8mm reels, and documents, layers of lies are exposed – a conspiracy of silence which began in 1963, carefully guarded by Mimi, then by Papa, their mother, and even their father, each burying the select parts they knew of the whole. Papa didn’t meet Mimi until 1964, so what happened in 1963 to presage such a cover-up? The only person in possession of all the facts is Mimi, and her memories are deep and inaccessible, and time is running out.

Moving smoothly between present day and the early Sixties through the Eighties, the novel explores the ripples of silence which reverberate through generations, whilst placing touching significance on the sisters’ individuality, as they re-evaluate their lives, work and loves, and manage their grief both together and alone. The root causes of Mimi’s silence are methodically tracked, so expertly managed that the events ring with evident truth. This poignant novel tells of trauma, abuse, young love, secrets, lies and estranged family, mutely asking the sisters to walk a while in Mimi’s shoes. A lovely story of family dynamics told with warmth and understanding.