This book was my September book club selection, but I hadn't had time to review it. Too much was going on in my personal life.
Basically, most of the members hated the book. MM said that the author wanted to show how well he could incorporate post-modernist writing in his novel. (Matt, please tell me what this means! I forgot what she said, and I can't find my Moleskin with my notes.) D mentioned that if she hadn't seen the movie, she might have had trouble understanding what went on.
Another reader and I were the only ones who really enjoyed it.
This novel is unconsciously following a trend in our bookgroup. We seemed to have chosen books with multiple storylines (Cloud Atlas, for example). And, a couple of characters in this book remind me other other characters; the girl genuises, Brod and Pope Joan.)
The novel has many stories. Jonathan (is it the author himself or how he wants to project himself?) has gone to the Ukraine to find the people who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during WWII.
Jonathan speaks only English, so he hires a translater (Alex) and a driver (Alex's grandfather.)
Alex learned English, but some of the expressions that he uses are hilarious. He refers to himself as a premium person. His mother gets irritated with him and screams, "Alex, stop spleening me!" The family dog is a female called Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior.
There are several stories going on in the novel:
- Jonathan's search for the village where his grandfather lived and the person who saved the grandfather, which uncovers some secrets that Alex's grandfather has kept hidden about what happened in that time period
- Jonathan's writings to recreate the village in the 1700s and the 1930s
- Correspondence between Alex and Jonathan, where they talk about their lives and Jonathan's work in progress. Alex freely criticizes the novel.
- Alex's recounting of his family life
There are sections in the writing that are really touching and beautiful.
In the Jonathan novel within the novel, the chapter called, Falling in Love 1791, Yankel, the father of Brod, is described as "..like a book that you could feel good holding, that you could talk about without ever having read, that you could recommend." How is that for a character reference?
Alex and Jonathan send each other real letters. In a 17 November 1997 letter, Alex tells Jonathan why he likes to write to him:
"...I want Little Igor (Alex's brother) to be able to boast to his brother, and to want to be viewed in public places with him. I think that is why I relish writing for you so much. It makes it possible for me to be not like I am, but as I desire Little Igor to see me. I can be funny, because I have to meditate about how funny, and I can repair my mistakes when I perform mistakes, and I can be a melancholy person in manners that are interesting, no only melancholy. With writing, we have a second chance."
If you read this novel, you must be ready to be challenged. You must keep your wits about you. This is not a beach book!