The Travels of Daniel Ascher, by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, translated by Andriana Hunter, (Other Press), 160 pages, release date 26 May, 2015
A recent translation from the French, The Travels of Daniel Ascher reminds me a bit of I Called Him Necktie, one of my favorite books of 2014. The similarity isn’t one of theme. Rather, each of these books seems deceptively simple at the beginning, a pleasant enough read, but perhaps not much more. Then comes the moment of sudden revelation about two thirds of the way through: this isn’t just a good read; it’s a remarkable read. And from that moment on the book becomes un-put-downable. One simultaneously feels compelled to race through it and mourns the fact that its end is approaching page by page.
The Travels of Daniel Ascher focuses on Hélèn, an archaeology student, and her uncle Daniel, a writer of a well-known children’s adventure series. When Hélèn begins her studies, she moves into a small room at the top of the building in which Daniel has his apartment. She’s glad for the room, but uneasy about living this close to her uncle, who she’s always found a bit off-putting: larger than life in a rather childish way, describing his adventures in dramatic fashion as though he were the hero of his own series.
Over time Hélèn begins to realize how little of her uncle’s story she knows, and she begins to question him and other family members. The first revelation is that Daniel was a Jewish boy adopted by a French gentile family during World War II. As Hélèn continues her research, she becomes less and less certain of who her uncle is, as he seems to have two very different life stories.
This is the sort of book one can give one’s self as a gift when a day or a weekend opens up and the lure of “a book and a quiet nook” is irresistible. It can easily be read in a day—or in two evenings—but it will stick with the reader much longer. The Travels of Daniel Ascher balances its mix of family secrets, 20th Century European history, and bibliophilia nicely. The reader wonders; the reader mourns; the reader also enjoys. Keep your eye out for this title and don’t hesitate to pick it up when you cross its path. You’ll be surprised by the richness packed into its 160 pages.