Cover image for One day my sister disappeared
One day my sister disappeared
Orban, Christine.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ame sœur. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2004]

Physical Description:
112 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PQ2675.R33 Z464 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"No one will ever be like you. Who could be like a sister?" One Day My Sister Disappeared is Christine Orban's deeply affecting meditation on family, grief, and identity. In spare and tender prose, Orban reflects on the death of her younger sister, Maco, and her presence, which endures. The story begins in Morocco, where Christine and Maco spend an idyllic childhood riding horses and collecting seashells. The bond between them is profound, and yet the sisters are quite different from each other. While Christine, who is bookish, goes off to university in Paris to immerse herself in a world of ideas, Maco remains at home, eventually falling in love with a wealthy Muslim, whom she marries. But soon Maco's life crumbles under the strain of her husband's infidelities, and the two divorce. When a Moroccan law separates Maco from her children, she turns to her beloved sister for solace and support. Unfortunately, Christine is unable to protect Masco from her tragic fate. Christine Orban's story, set against the evocative landscapes of Morocco and Paris, is a poignant reckoning with loss and, ultimately, a celebration of the singular bond between sisters.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Best-selling French novelist Orban recalls the bond between herself and her sister Maco, forged during an idyllic childhood in Morocco and enduring across continents and time. Christine goes off to college in Paris and eventually embarks on a writing career. Maco, after a brief stay in Paris, returns to Morocco to marry a much older and very traditional Muslim. Four years younger than Christine, yet more resilient and socially resourceful, Maco is later worn out when her marriage fails and she suffers 10 years of separation from her children with once-a-week official visits and surreptitious visits to comb their hair before school. Christine is heartbroken to see the changes in her sister. She poignantly recalls the shifts in their relationship as they age and yet remain locked in support and dependence, and her final aching when her sister dies at the age of 31, having risked pregnancy in a new marriage, trying for happiness despite a rare blood disorder. Orban voices the strong bond between sisters and the pain of coping with loss. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Moroccan-born Orban has published 10 novels in French; here she offers a memoir of her friendship with her sister, Maco, who died pregnant with her third child when she was only 35. In brief, elegiac chapters studded with old photographs of the two sisters, Orban revisits their childhood days in the early 1960s, playing together in their seaside home in northern Morocco, where the "people around us were rich only in time, which they offered us with carefree generosity." These were magical years: "I loved being a child so much that I never wanted to grow up." Orban, four years older than her sister, was shy and bookish; Maco was wild and passionate. Maco fell in love and married a Moroccan Muslim. Willing to convert and adopt a conservative lifestyle, but unwilling to accept his eventual infidelity, Maco divorced her husband, which meant she lost most contact with their two children. In constant pain from that separation, she still found love again and remarried. While Orban does not specify what killed Maco-an aneurysm, perhaps-her grief at the loss of her sister is immense. For not only has she lost her oldest friend, she has also lost her favorite season, her childhood. Even as a teenager, she realized, "The only one with whom I could secretly prolong that childhood was Maco." Now she mourns: "With Maco, I was still a child; I no longer am." Orban's is a slight but heartfelt account of a very personal loss. Agent, Maria Campbell. (On sale July 6) Forecast: In France; where Orban is known as a playful literary critic, her books have been bestsellers. As this is her first book to be translated into English, however, American readers probably won't have heard of her and therefore may not be drawn to her personal story. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Popular French novelist Orban has written a touching collection of vignettes of her close friendship with her younger sister, Maco. As she grieves her sister's untimely death, Orban recalls their idyllic childhood together as daughters of a privileged French family in Morocco and lovingly describes playtimes, vacations by the sea, and adolescent escapades. Upon finishing high school, the author leaves to attend university in Paris, expecting that her sister will soon join her. Maco, the more self-reliant and outgoing of the two sisters, makes her own choices, converting to Islam and marrying Kassim. She eventually divorces but remains in Morocco; under Moroccan law, her ex-husband has custody of their children and grants her limited access. The sisters support each other through phone calls, letters, and visits, until, one day, hours after talking to Maco on the phone, Orban learns of her sister's sudden, unexpected death and rushes back to Casablanca for the funeral. The author's poignant outpouring of grief and her descriptions of life in Morocco make this short memoir unforgettable. Recommended for public libraries.-Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 sister spirit I'm searching for Maco's beautiful face, her hair streaked with sunlight. I look inside my head, where all is hopeless confusion. I'm hunting for the words. I need them to re-create that gleam in her dark eyes, as if she were always on the verge of bursting into laughter. The words are my only hope now. Otherwise I will never see my little sister again and our childhood will disappear forever with her. Death hands friendship back to the friend. My friend is gone, but not our friendship. I'm still here, weighed down by love, memories, stories I want to tell her. Life goes on, even though she's no longer here. Her name was Corinne. I called her Ma Co, two words. Ma means "my" in French and Co is short for Corinne. In time Ma and Co were joined to form a new name. According to my parents, I rebaptized my sister. Anxiously I watched her royal arrival in a baby carriage of white muslin. Who was this come to disturb my reign? Would she take my place or would she be a new friend? Was she a doll? I wanted to make sure. I climbed up on a stool, scissors in hand. I aimed for Maco's tiny fingernails and with one stroke cut open the tips of her thumb and forefinger. Maco screamed, staining her small white sheet with blood. But now I knew. Maco wasn't a brand-new plastic doll. I had a little sister. Every night her loss haunts me. Happiness vanished as suddenly as the flight of a bird. Had I really been happy? I've often blamed myself for frantically searching everywhere for what I had right next to me all the time. I never dreamed of calling our relationship a friendship. I would have had to invent a new word, a word all our own. Friends were other people whom one had to charm. We didn't need them. One night, without warning, Maco disappeared. A few short hours after she told me she was going to have a baby. The next day I was no longer able to hear her. I never would again. She was gone in a few seconds. After a phone conversation, in the midst of happiness, at the beginning of a new pregnancy. My sister became my sister spirit. Without warning she left me weighed down with memories, sole guardian of our secrets big and small, with this language we had invented for ourselves that only we understood, a profusion of secret words that reassured us that we belonged to the same tribe. Today Maco is buried in the Ben m'sik cemetery, where I can never return. Still, I go to meet her, to talk about her, to discuss her in the present tense, to impose order on the chaos of my memories, to go beyond the tricks I play on myself sometimes in order to believe that she is still there, that I can still be happy for a moment, can still think of something other than her, my little sister. the world is blue On the white wooden desk in our room there was a plastic globe of the world, lit from inside. The world is blue, swallowed up by the sea. We were born in that part of North Africa that looks out onto the Atlantic and the Azores. We live "there," Maco used to say, pointing to a far corner of the globe, off by three continents. "There" was red earth under the sun, waves that broke just in front of the house, and the call of the muezzin at sunset. "There" was the scent of mint tea, and Aida, our nurse, who gave us our bath in the evening. "There" was a horse named Kidnapping who whinnied as a sign of welcome. As soon as I entered his stall, he would turn me around and, with his muzzle, go through my pockets looking for sugar. Kidnapping terrified Maco. I pulled at her little hand, the fingers all stiff, to get her to stroke his soft muzzle. She nicknamed him Velvet Nose, but that didn't help her get over her fear. Was it the animal's size, the ringing sound of his shod hooves on the cobblestones, or the smell of the stables? I don't know. But she became my accomplice when it came to raising our two cats, Pussycat-Purr and Cindy, whom we hid under the bed when John Bull, the wild boar, and Eagle, the dog, tore up the garden. We spent weekends at Katouat, in the house where our father stayed when he went hunting. There we discovered colors that were different from those at home-green and red especially-and other distractions. There our refuge was not a wicker cabin or a shell-filled grotto, as at the beach house, but a tree, an old welcoming oak, with steps hollowed out from the bark. High up in the tree, each of us had chosen a branch as her house. Katouat was also mule rides on saddles of braided straw that tore us to shreds and death-defying descents down the mountain on wobbling bicycles whose tires were nearly flat. One of our greatest joys was hunting scorpions. We had become extremely deft from our practice of catching crabs. Maco and I divided up the tasks. I immobilized the creature by seizing it behind the claws, while she, armed with a pair of scissors, cut off the end of the tail, where the poison was stored. Knowing where to find the scorpions was a game with few surprises; they would turn up under each sixth or seventh stone. Our harvest was not a heartless slaughter. We always spared the mothers and the babies and our catch enabled us to continue our "observations." The poor black and yellow scorpions, cut into sections, were placed under the microscope until the day our father caught us returning home from a hunt, bag of scorpions in hand. He threw them into the fire. I remember the whistling sound the roasting scorpions made and the smell of burning plastic. Katouat was also piles of partridge, quail, and wild boar killed during hunts that were responsible for our lifelong disgust for blood and the smell of blood. It was there that we found John Bull, the wild boar who had been miraculously saved. He was no bigger than a hand when he was given to us. John Bull drank his milk from our dolls' bottle. Even though he was a boy, we knotted a pink ribbon around his neck. With my little sister's help, I used to train our German pointer, fresh from obedience school, at the end of a tether, taking him through a whole series of jumps as though he were a horse at a horse show. On May 18, 1968, a memorable day, the hunting dog, with our two dolls strapped to his back, jumped a yard high. Thank God our father, surprised that Eagle was so exhausted, never suspected that we had transformed his purebred hunting dog into a circus animal. Maco applauded. That was the high point of the year. As for what was happening on the barricades in Paris, we knew nothing. We would learn about it later. a meeting outside time In our house on the Atlantic coast, our neighbors on the inland side were farmers; on the shore side they were fishermen. One night, in a silence broken only by the sound of the waves, Mama woke us up. For the first time ever, a man was walking on the moon. It was July 1969. It would be a few years before I left. Why did I think about my departure with such a mixture of fear and curiosity that particular night? Because going to Paris was like going to the moon. Maco and I, sitting on the cold gray slate floor of the veranda, backs against our parents' shins, watched Neil Armstrong's first awkward steps with astonishment. In the garden we looked at the moon through the telescope, so near and so far away. Even if I were offered a seat in a rocket going to the moon, I would never go, but you would consider it, Maco informed me. I hugged her tight. I knew what she was thinking about: the mythic city that was a dream for me, a nightmare for her. She hated asphalt, traffic jams, gray skies. She preferred to catch shrimp by scraping her net along the seaweed that clung to the rock. I liked to fish too, especially in order to feed our cats. Every time we came home, Cindy and Pussycat-Purr were waiting for our little plastic bucket, which they overturned with a quick swipe of the paw. They would crunch on the live shrimp as well as the many-hued little rockfish we found in nearby puddles. Our great excitement was night fishing. After dinner we waited for night to fall. Then, armed with spades and acetylene torches that our father had prepared in the garage, we would set out. I loved the smell of the gray stone of the torches as it burned and the fishes' surprise when we shone our light into their faces, and coming home, the game bags slung over our shoulders, full of the smell of the sea and the squishing sound of rubber boots full of water, while each of us exaggerated our adventures. But it was true that my father really did catch a conger eel and it was true that Maco and I suddenly found ourselves up to our necks in water in the midst of a shoal of mullet. One evening my father really did spear an angelfish, a fish as flat as a skate, and more than a yard long. The next day all the neighbors lined up to see the fish. One evening, coming home from one of our expeditions, Maco said to me, "You know, Chris, I'm sure you can't fish like this in the Seine. Think about it. . . ." The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that when the moment came, Maco would be strong enough to be willing to tear herself away from her universe. Very early on we began to live, she and I, haunted by the fact of our coming separation. We were four years apart and there was no French university in the country where we lived. Unless we gave up any idea of studying and fished for rockfish for the rest of our lives, we had no choice. One day we would have to leave behind all that we loved. We grew up with this fear, this sword hanging over our heads. "After you graduate, you're going away, Chris?" And she would count on her little fingers how many years we had left together. I tried to reassure her. "You'll join me very soon. I'll get everything ready. A little house for the two of us, and if you come before you graduate, you can get your diploma in Paris. I'll come with you." She didn't respond to that, but said, "In Paris, people are always in a hurry. They never have any time, Chris. . . ." We had plenty of time, too much time. And the people around us were rich only in time, which they offered us with carefree generosity. The long days did not come to an end until the red sun, a few yards from us, sank into the ocean. Then nothing. Nothing but the backs of the fishermen who, seated cross-legged in front of the house, gazed at the horizon. Good-bye to the sun. The even expanse of the sky. The flat sea. The light breeze. And silence. How could I explain to my little sister that life would drive us from this paradise? Often, seated in the shadow of the cave lined with shells, I would escape by reading. The first time I fell in love, it was with a character in a novel. Maco preferred Vasco, our fourteen-year-old neigh-bor. Maco always preferred reality to daydreams. She preferred a real person sitting beside her on the beach to an imaginary hero. I preferred words to reality. Words in books describe us better than we can do it ourselves. I loved the words of the Little Prince: "For me you are just a little boy like a hundred thousand other little boys. I don't need you. And you don't need me either. I'm nothing but a fox for you, just like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we'll need each other. For me, you'll be unique in all the world and I'll be unique in all the world for you." This story lulled us throughout our childhood. Rereading it now, I can still hear the inflections of our mother's soft voice. I see myself again with Maco, knees drawn up to her chest, feet tucked under her nightgown, listening to my mother and hoping that the story would never end. But all stories come to an end and one looks for others. I'm angry with myself for not knowing how to hold back time and remain in the world of childhood. mortal sin We went to sleep soothed by the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks beneath our window. I saw only the sky, the stars, and the moon changing places. Heaven was all around us. I heard the sea. But I could not see her until she reappeared in the morning. Unless the white waves turned phosphorescent during the night. Aida slept below. She spoke only Arabic. Our parents lived at the end of the garden, down the path studded with stones that hurt our feet. When Mama's story was finished, we were allowed to say good night to Nounours, Pimprenelle, and Nicolas on television. Belphegor, the phantom of the Louvre, rebroadcast late in the evening, frightened us. Then we would go up to our room to sit at the back of the closet under a cloud of petticoats where we had built our dolls' house. That's where they invited one another over for dinner. After the Barbie dolls came Bella dolls, big babies with long eyelashes. The Barbie dolls inspired unconscious thoughts of growing up. Isn't that what dolls who look like grown-up women are for? We lent them our secret language, which no one but us understood. The dolls had moods. Maco's was unhappily married and turned to me for help. Francine, my small brunette doll with jointed legs, used to listen to Maco's too blond Barbie whose legs didn't bend but who could talk. Later we asked Father Christmas (whom we no longer believed in) for husbands for our dolls. Two Ken dolls arrived. We were intimidated by these "man objects." They were ridiculous. Indecent. We rebelled and the Ken dolls remained in the ski outfits they were wearing when they arrived. One day Maco, who was braver than I, insisted, "It's hot. We should undress the men." Then she asked me, "Have you ever seen a boy naked?" I shook my head emphatically. "What do you think it's like? Is it frightening?" Maco and I counted to three and together we pulled the too tight underpants off the Ken dolls. But dolls, like angels, have no sex organs. Excerpted from One Day My Sister Disappeared: A Memoir by Christine Orban All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.