From the Truth is Stranger Than Department…

Sperm entering egg…comes the story of incest and imprisonment in Austria. In case you missed it, a man locked his 18-year-old daughter up in a windowless prison in the cellar of his home 24 years ago. He forced her to write a letter that convinced her mother, who spent 24 years not knowing her daughter was imprisoned in the basement, she had run away.

The man fathered seven children by his daughter. One of them died shortly after birth and he burned its body in an incinerator. Since three of the children were “cry babies” —more likely to be detected—he “discovered” each of them on his doorstep with a note from his daughter asking him and her mother to take care of them. Three other children, ages 19, 18 and 5, had never seen daylight until the nineteen-year-old became so ill, her father/grandfather deposited her with an anonymous note in the lobby of the building where he lived.

“Not Meant to Know,” the first story in Silent Girl, hints at incest when a small community discovers a fifteen-year-old and her two-year-old child in “Crazy” Haggerty’s house after he dies. The story was inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a tale of a sorcerer, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, who have lived for twelve years on an island inhabited only by magic spirits and the misshapen, orphaned Caliban.

I had intended to write my story about a girl who is kept hidden from the world by her father, but in the end, it became only a small part of a larger story about loss of innocence. Even so, I had to imagine what might have happened to my Miranda before she was discovered. I did not imagine something as horrible as what happened to the girl in the Austrian cellar: a 42-year-old woman, now, with prematurely white hair and no teeth, raped repeatedly and forced to carry her father’s seed. In fiction unimaginable but too horribly real in truth.

It will take a while, I’m sure, to understand how that father could have conducted such a double life for so long without anyone finding out. His wife’s sister was quoted as saying he ruled his family absolutely, insisting the children stop whatever they were doing and stand when he entered the room. Were they so cowed they didn’t question his disappearances into the cellar for long periods or wonder why he forbade anyone else to go down there? Possibly. But Austrians are asking themselves why no one else was curious enough to investigate an 18-year-old’s disappearance and the subsequent arrival of three of her children on her parents’ doorstep.

In “Not Meant to Know,” eleven-year-old Linda asks her father why nobody knew Crazy Haggerty had a daughter, and he says people were so afraid of the man they left him alone. It brings up the question that’s as old as the Old Testament: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It asks us to ponder the line between respecting someone’s desire for privacy and the community’s obligation to protect its vulnerable members.

What do you think?

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FROM THE BOOK