The Smallest Objective

Reviewed by Sharon Hanna

Posted March 26, 2021

In The Smallest Objective, author Sharon Kirsch embarks on a journey of discovery as she combs through the belongings that have been left in her childhood home. The home has recently been vacated by her ailing mother, and Kirsch is initially motivated by the promise of treasure buried in the floorboards by her late father.

The items she finds — some of them peculiar, others mundane — bear something equally rich: the memories of past lives. She discovers the hidden history of her family and, more broadly, the story of the Jewish community that has thrived in Montreal over the last 150 years.

Kirsch is a writer by trade, and as a result her memoir bears a warm, clever tone and rich historical detail. A few of the discovered items are illustrated by photographs, but it’s Kirsch’s vivid writing that truly brings to life the three generations of family to which readers are introduced.

Some characters are dazzling in their achievements and historical importance, yet to me the life of Carol Rutenberg, Kirsch’s maternal aunt, stands out. Coming of age in the 1950s and early 1960s, Rutenberg was a dynamic woman who pushed the boundaries of gendered opportunity before coming to a tragic early death.

The Smallest Objective is an unexpectedly relevant book for our time, when we’ve been confined to our homes like never before. In this story of both loss and recovery, Kirsch reveals to us that much can be known through what surrounds us and through what has been left behind by others.

Buy this book from Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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