Welcome back, Bookies:
Hope your reading’s going well—I even see that some of you have finished the book ahead of schedule, the sign of a good book!
In this section, Alma pursues her quest to find out if there was a real Alma Mereminski. She explores the N.Y.C. birth and death records’ offices, but to no avail: “Loneliness turned into depression.” But then she has an exciting thought—the young woman must have married and changed her last name! A new quest must begin! “I’d started out looking for someone who could make my mother happy again, now I was looking for something else, too. About the woman I was named after. And about me.”
Alma continues her friendship with Mischa and with that comes stronger feelings of attachment/teen confusion (and even some separation/loss there); her Uncle Julian visits from England (and he too has marriage/love struggles). She finds Bird’s notebooks and we get some insight into his thoughts about being normal (or not) and pending disasters: “…if there is a nuclear bomb before I get to Israel…anyway, I’m just joking because there’s not going to be a bomb. What there’s going to be is a flood.”
Krauss writes more about Litvinoff’s journey from Poland to Chile, saying good-bye to his dear friend, Leo, and holding Leo’s envelope for him until they meet again; and more about Zvi’s loneliness until he meets Rosa, with whom he finds happiness.
Back to Leo, who explores where his late son, Isaac, had lived, just five days after he’d received an envelope with “the pages of the book I had written half a century ago.” And we find that Leo’s Alma had written to him and shared how she thinks about Isaac’s not knowing the truth about his father: “Sometimes when I look in his eyes, I see you…I hear your voice like you were next to me.”
Leo continues to yearn for the love of his life, and for the loss of being a father. And the loss of Isaac not knowing about the book Leo had written: “All I wanted was proof that he read it.” Leo recalls everyone (and everything) he’s loved whom he has lost: “I lost the only woman I wanted to love. I lost years. I lost books. I lost the house where I was born. And I lost Isaac….so who is to say…I didn’t also lose my mind”? (Powerful writing, agree?)
Meanwhile, our teen Alma continues to explore her sense of self, tries to figure out if Litvinoff was in love with the book Alma as a child, and tries to find the actual married Alma, and there she is: Alma Moritz in N.Y.C.! But—heartbreak—we learn that she died five years earlier and our Alma wonders about her name: “Why do people always get named after dead people?…why can’t it be…after the sky, or the sea, or even ideas, which never really die, not even bad ones?” (That thought was so sweet and insightful to me and so teen-like, too.) But then, the elder Alma’s doorman informs our Alma that there is a writer son named Isaac.
I gasped reading that paragraph (did you?), this coming together of our characters, as if our Alma is so close to meeting Leo and getting all her questions explained.
On the downside, Alma is upset to learn that her mother has sent off more pages to Jacob, which means she didn’t get the chance to write a note. Who is this publisher? Have some of you figured out any more about him?
Our final chapter for this week is about Litvinoff’s process in copying Leo’s book (whom he assumes was killed by the Nazis.) Litvinoff translates the book from Yiddish to Spanish and calls it his own! All names are changed except for Alma’s: “Because without Alma, there would have been no book.” When Zvi is done copying Leo’s book, his conscience weighs heavily on him and the pages are kept in his desk drawer. Years later, close to death, he tries to tell Rosa what he did but can’t bring himself to. He tried to convince himself that this wasn’t so terrible: “Gursky was dead, at least the book would finally be published and read…” He’d even added a new last chapter, Leo’s self-authored obit. Later, Rosa hides a letter from Leo, thinking it’s a book rejection letter, and never shows it to Zvi. But when she finally reads it, she discovers its true nature: “So you don’t get a heart attack, I’ll start by saying it’s your old friend, Leo Gurtsky….I’m writing from New York…Of course I have always wondered whether you kept the package I gave you…Inside was the book I was writing when you knew me in Minsk…Could you please send it back to me?”
Rosa feels sick—she had encouraged her husband to publish “his” book—so she replies for Zvi that the book was lost in a flood (and we learn that Rosa had destroyed the evidence soon after the book’s publication).
And now I’m left with these thoughts/questions:
• We know who our writer is, as some of you had guessed: Leo. I wasn’t so sure earlier. Did anyone think it might be Bruno?
• Will David Singer’s place be further defined? How about Jacob Marcus?
• Will Charlotte find happiness/some connection?
• Will Alma come to terms with herself, her family, and her adolescence comfortably?
Next week, we’ll finish the book. See you then.