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The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir


The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir

written by Maude Julien, translated by Adriana Hunter

For 18 years, Maude Julien’s life was controlled by her father, Louis Didier. But even before that, the circumstances of her upbringing were taking shape. In 1936, a well-off Monsieur Didier convinced a poor man with an overcrowded family to allow him to take his six-year-old daughter, Jeannine. In return, as promised, Didier provided Jeannine with schooling at premier boarding schools and made sure she lacked for nothing. And when she came of age, he married her and set his master plan into motion.

On November 23, 1957, Maude was born to Louis and Jeannine Didier with no idea of her father’s ambition: to raise her as a super-human child. Along with his deep devotion to the beliefs of the Freemasons, Monsieur Didier had an absolute faith in the power of the mind above all else and taught Maude that to harness its ability required “long, rigorous training away from the impurities of this dirty world.” So, before Maude was four years old, the Didiers moved to a secluded house near Cassel, France, and she began learning a curriculum that existed solely in her father’s mind. Her formal training consisted of endless “tests of courage” that, once mastered, would help her become a superior being destined to “raise up humanity.”

"Maude Julien’s story will haunt you, but it also will give you hope to fight for the life you are destined for and inspire you to extend kindness into a world that sometimes can seem very dark indeed."

For instance, because her father believed that only musicians survived the concentration camps in World War II, Maude had to become proficient in piano, accordion, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, organ and drums at the hands of an abusive music teacher. Because she must be able to keep her calm in any business dealings she might undertake, her father required that she drink as much alcohol as a grown man and prove that she could still walk a straight line. To teach her to trust no one and nothing but herself, Monsieur Didier had her take actions that, unbeknownst to her, would inflict cruelty on her animal friends. And Maude’s most hated test of all: she would frequently be required to sit overnight in a dark cellar amongst the rats she was terrified of, with bells sewn on her sweater to betray any movement at all.

Maude’s memoir depicts her shocking childhood and how she managed not only to break free of her parents’ physical and emotional control, but also to offer hope to others in helping them work through their own traumatic experiences.

THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD packs a punch. The author recounts her experiences simply, articulately and (mercifully) a bit clinically. But beyond the solidity of her factual account, one cannot help but be confronted by questions that reveal greater truths about the human experience. What would drive someone to raise a child in a household absent of safety, kindness and love? How could a sensitive spirit survive such treatment, year after year, and not break under its weight? What are the limits of the mind? Of fear? Of physical pain?

Yet, in a bleak environment created for conformity, Maude’s imagination is the epitome of resilience. Her small acts of defiance --- befriending the animals around her, reading non-approved books in small snatches of time, walling off her mind from her father’s “mind control” to protect her hidden joyous thoughts, jumping the fence that kept her from the outside world to take a breath of freedom, reveling in the beauty of nature, penning stories that she secreted away --- created an entirely different reality from the one she had no choice but to participate in. And ultimately, it gave her the courage to escape the only life she had ever known.

THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD explores an extreme reality that sketches out the importance of what we think, what we believe in, and how the wrong seeds of thought, carried out to their bitter end, can enslave us...and those around us.

Attempting to live up to impossible standards her whole life, Maude struggled and believed that she was too stupid, too inept, too clumsy. Yet, for all the shame she felt of being unable to achieve excellence in the framework designed by her mother and father, each word in this book exudes intelligence tempered with hard-won confidence. And, for all the times Maude was required to bear the weight of silence in her father’s “tests of courage,” this book shows that she has found her voice and taken back her life.

If I could change one thing about this memoir, it would be the length. I had hoped that after journeying with Maude through the horrors of her childhood, I also would be able to bask in the light of her escape and read about her transition to a life of freedom. My one regret is that her story from age 18 to the present isn’t represented in this book, save a short epilogue.

THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD is a triumphant manifesto. Words can’t do justice in describing the bravery of a soul knocking down the bricks of their enslavement one day, one hour, one second at a time. Maude Julien’s story will haunt you, but it also will give you hope to fight for the life you are destined for and inspire you to extend kindness into a world that sometimes can seem very dark indeed.

Reviewed by Amy Haddock on January 19, 2018

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir
written by Maude Julien, translated by Adriana Hunter

  • Publication Date: December 11, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316466638
  • ISBN-13: 9780316466639