Therapist recounts abuse, survival in ‘The Only Girl in the World’

Maude Julien’s “The Only Girl in the World” is a disturbing, engrossing memoir of a bizarre, highly abusive childhood.

Psychotherapist Julien makes her literary debut with a gripping chronicle of growing up imprisoned and tormented by her parents. Isolated on a walled estate not far from Dunkirk, Julien was raised to become a “superior being,” destined to “control the weak-minded and bring about the great regeneration of the universe.” Her father, a paranoid, narcissistic conspiracy theorist, “a Grand Master of Freemasonry and a great knight of a secret order,” had adopted and then married Julien’s mother, who assisted in the demanding, cruel regimen that he designed to shape their daughter’s body and mind. They locked her in a dank, rat-infested cellar, forbidding her to move (her mother sewed bells in her sweater to monitor disobedience). They also attempted to quash any signs of love or compassion; Julien had to cage her gentle dog every day, and when her beloved horse died, they made her dig a hole to bury it. Her father bought the horse not as a pet for Julien but to make sure she learned to ride: “just like swimming, riding will be very useful if I need to escape” persecution and also “to be able to get a job with a circus in case I have to hide or go undercover at some point.” They forced her to bathe in their own dirty bathwater: “an honor,” her father said, that “allows you to benefit from my energies when they enter your body.” They refused to summon a doctor when she was ill, and they ignored her being sexually abused by their lecherous handyman. Finally, when Julien was an adolescent, a kind, observant music teacher assessed the situation and contrived to give her lessons at his own studio; he soon hired her to work for him part-time and introduced her to a young man who married her. Although she escaped physically, Julien admits, “being outside wasn’t enough to make me free.” Years of therapy led her to become a therapist herself.

This memoir is a startling testament of survival.

A warm winter romance

Thrown together by a Brooklyn blizzard, two NYU professors and a Guatemalan nanny find themselves with a body to dispose of in Isabel Allende’s “In the Midst of Winter.”

“Blessed with the stoic character of her people, accustomed as they are to earthquakes, floods, occasional tsunamis, and political cataclysm,” 61 year-old Chilean academic Lucia Maraz is nonetheless a bit freaked out by a snowstorm so severe that it’s reported on television “in the solemn tone usually reserved for news about terrorism in far-off countries.” Her landlord and boss, the tightly wound Richard Bowmaster, lives right upstairs with his four cats, but he rebuffs her offer of soup and company. Too bad: She might have a crush on him. Enter Evelyn Ortega, a diminutive young woman from Guatemala Richard meets when he skids into her Lexus on the iced-over streets. Evelyn’s hysterical reaction to the fender bender seems crazily out of proportion when she shows up on his doorstep that night, and he has Lucia come up to help him understand why she’s so upset. The Lexus, it turns out, belongs to her volatile, violent employer … and there’s a corpse in the now-unlatchable trunk. Once Lucia gradually pieces together Evelyn’s story — she was smuggled north by a coyote after barely surviving gang violence that killed both of her siblings — the two professors decide to help her, and the plan they come up with is straight out of a telenovela. While that’s getting underway, Allende (“The Japanese Lover,” 2015) fills in the dark and complicated histories of Richard and Lucia, who also have suffered defining losses. The horrors of Evelyn’s past have left her all but mute; Richard is a complete nervous wreck; Lucia fears there is no greater love coming her way than that of her Chihuahua, Marcelo.

This winter’s tale has something to melt each frozen heart.

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