When Eva Butler’s Holocaust survivor and artist grandfather, Joseph Silk, dies, she is left the heir and a trustee of his estate. The two enjoyed a close relationship: Eva is estranged from her father and Silk, as he was known, filled the paternal vacuum, playing the role of confidant, companion and guide. Yet when a request from the Jewish Museum in Berlin arrives to use a testimony he gave of his wartime experiences, of which she had no knowledge, her picture of him begins to unravel.
Eva’s intense affection for her grandfather is portrayed by internal monologues and somewhat sentimental flashbacks. Analysing her own physical appearance, she describes herself as having a ‘chin ideal for the gentle grasp of Silk’s hand’. She looks back fondly on how she used to comfort him when he was angry: ‘I closed my hand over his fingers … I thought he was crying, but didn’t look up into his face, just stood within the shelter of his body, sheltering him.’ Her esteem for her grandfather rankles with her father, who repeatedly denounces Silk for having uttered ‘lies, lies, lies’ about his relations with women. When a newspaper publishes an exposé of his liaisons with actresses, Eva is forced to confront the possibility that her father may have been right all along, and embarks on an increasingly obsessive quest to uncover the truth about Silk’s past.
Testament’s narrative perspective shifts between a fragmented account of Silk’s wartime experience and Eva’s archival research. Her attempt to construct a private memory of her grandfather is set alongside the public task of memorialisation. Is his homeland the place of his childhood – Hungary – or his country