The Only Girl in the World – Book Review
by Jennifer Trijo
The fleeting moments of loneliness that I felt in my life pale in comparison to the plight of Maude Julien. Her formative years were filled with sorrow and torment, yet she found the courage to speak of them, and I am richer for reading her story.
Few books have captivated me in the way that this memoir has. Many a time I had to remind myself that this was a non-fiction book because of the incomprehensible things this strong-willed human being endured. Rather than become a victim of her horrific childhood, Maude grew into a formidable, intelligent, and inspiring person. She found the courage to live an enriching life that she could only imagine as a child, and she continues to empower others through her story.
Maude Julien was born in 1957, the only daughter to Louis Didier. Just before her fourth birthday, she was cut off from the outside world and raised by her parents in an isolated mansion in northern France. This was all because of Monsieur Didier’s fanatical idea that he would turn his daughter into the perfect super human. Her upbringing consisted of a demanding schedule where she was subjected to endurance tests, academic rigour, exhausting physical labour, and on top of it all emotional neglect.
Her only contact with the outside world was through the unconditional love that she found in her pet animals, the connection she developed with music, and the fascinating characters she acquainted herself with through books.
The extreme psychological control of her father was almost unbearable to read about, and the lack of affection from her mother saddened me to my very core. I felt so deeply connected to Maude and, with every page turn, my heart sank further. There was one particular chapter in the book where I had to put it down, walk away, and collect myself as I was sobbing. That was the impact that this book had on me.
Here was a woman giving a voice to the oppressed. A brave, intelligent woman who survived an abominable upbringing and still found beauty in the world to focus on. The themes of her story were perseverance, curiosity, defiance, imagination, friendship, and compassion.
I believe that a great deal of wisdom can be found through deep suffering. If someone like Maude can find compassion, love, and forgiveness through such horrendous ordeals, why is it so difficult for the average person to accept the differences of others? Here is someone who was deprived of basic human rights throughout her childhood, yet she invests her time to ensure that others are not deprived.
Regardless of race, religion, or gender, we all have a heart that beats. We can choose to join hearts with others and advocate for love. We could invest in uniting, and endorsing compassion, in effect composing a polyrhythmic overture to a brighter future for humanity. We each have a brain that we can choose to fill with enriching, thought-provoking knowledge, or fill with divisive propaganda. Given the state of current affairs, I strongly recommend this book to everyone. It will offer perspective on the things that truly matter.
‘I’ve suffered already in my own life; that explains my compassion for those who suffer’ – Maude Julien (p. 122)
I purchased this book after listening to its author, Maude Julien, in an interview on ABC Radio National’s programme, All in the Mind, presented by Lynne Malcolm. That interview compelled me to learn more about the life of this incredible French woman who survived what was a horrific childhood.
I was glued to the book from the start, and read it in less than 48 hours. This memoir was gripping, disturbing, yet uplifting. In the end it was hope and curiosity that saved her, for even the oppressed can find a way to manifest their innermost desires.
Julien is the epitome of resilience. Her father set out to create a superior being, a ‘super human’, and in many ways, perhaps not those intended by Monsieur Didier, he succeeded.
I am waiting for the day Maude shares her story through a TED talk.
Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩ and a hundred tears.