Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt


I really loved Fernanda Eberstad's non-fiction book Little Money Street about her connection with gypsies in Perpignon, a city in southwest France that is very close to Spain. I especially liked the message that you can form a connection with people wildly different from you, whose approach to life is in some ways unappealing, even unpleasant to you.

Rat is the nickname Vanessa calls her beloved daughter Celia; Vanessa is a brocanteuse, a seller of used goods in rural southwest France, outside Perpignon. Rat's father was one of the rich Englishmen visiting the area with his famous mother when a two-night stand resulted in pregnancy.  Though he has sent child support, Gillem has never taken any interest in her. Vanessa and Rat live in a nearly communal setting. Vanessa takes in Morgan, a toddler, when his mother dies. When Rat is 15, her mother's current boyfriend takes an unhealthy interest in Morgan, 9 years old at the time. Vanessa doesn't believe Rat's story, so Rat takes Morgan and leaves home.

With the help of her friend Jerome and another former school chum, now a dope seller, she makes her way to London where her father lives with his wife and son. At the outset her father is a distant unemotional fellow, a strong contrast to his wife, who accepts Rat and Morgan into the household with unquestioning warmth. The generous and kindly connections of the characters in this fairy tale make it a pleasure to read. 

After learning that the money her father sent was just left in a bank account and not spent on her, she reacts this way:

Rat doesn't mind, because thanks to Vanessa's teaching she's learned to fend for herself. Later on, when she meets people who've been born rich, they will seem to her like dogs without a sense of smell. Bank accounts belong to the realm of the unreal. What's real is your quick wits.

Having grown up on Park Avenue in New York, she probably knows about that.

Available at the public library, UVa, and through Amazon.

Fernanda Eberstadt, Rat, Alford A. Knopf, 2010, 293.

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