Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann
Leo Deakin wakes up in hospital to the fragments of memory that lie among the wreckage. Where is Eleni? he asks the Doctor. Muerta ... but somewhere beyond belief he already knew that.
|Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: In 1992 Theo wakes in a south American hospital to the knowledge that his girlfriend is dead. He returns to his old world to discover that he's expected to go on living. In the 1917 Moritz Daniecki walks out of a Siberian POW camp with the idea of going home. He has little more than he stands up in...and no idea just how vast Siberia is...but he knows Lotte must be waiting for him. Two stunning and in parts surprising portraits of the power of love.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Black Swan|
It will take him time to put together what happened on that last bus trip in Guatemala, the one that Eleni did not walk away from... the one that killed her, because for once they did not sit where they always sat... which made it his fault.
But it isn't guilt that torments him. Upon his return to Greece and then to England, it is love that becomes his obsession. His love for Eleni. He sees her in everything and hears her voice. He dreams she is alive and wakes grief-stricken all over again.
He carries on. For love.
He tries to put his life back together.
And largely fails.
His friends try to help him.
And largely fail.
Then he meets the quantum physicist and the world begins to make sense.
Meanwhile - 'quantum' being what it is - back in 1933 Moritz Daniecki lies in bed with consumption... craving water and spitting blood, he starts to tell his story to his eldest son Fischel. It's three weeks after Kristallnacht. Fishcel's father is home again, a little the worse for wear, but the child himself has withdrawn into a silence, that will be strengthened rather than weakened by what is to follow.
But for now, he stands by his father's bed and hears the story.
Moritz Daniecki fell in love as a carefree teenager - a careless teenager one should say, for as a woodworker's son, he fell for the local aristocratic princess. Not truly of royal blood, but she might as well have been for what chance he had of their romantic notions ever being more than wishes cast on the light-play on the River San.
Galicia, in the Carpathian Mountains was a dangerous place to be in the second decade of the 20th century. Border countries always are. In this case the border is that between the soon to disintegrate Austro-Hungarian Empire and the greater Russia. An archduke is assassinated and ambitions and retributions erupt all over the continent. The border countrymen cannot escape... they have to fight for one side of the other... or there is nowhere to go. So they fight for what they know. And for what they love. Moritz loves Lotte and figures that an army career might give him a rank to outweigh the lack of breeding... and so he must fight for her.
The horrors of battle are just the beginning... prison camps and Siberian winters are to follow, and personal battles even harder to fight.
But he carries on, for Lotte, and for love.
In his own way he is as obsessed as Leo with the unreachable
Love, the idea of love, the ideal of love in the woman beyond reach, is what sustains them in every sense of the word. It literally keeps them alive, when otherwise they might wish not to be.
Eventually Moritz meets his equivalent of the physicist - an old man. A peasant? A sage? A poet? Or maybe just a wise man, with the true wisdom of experience and considered reflection on the workings of the world.
And the world makes a little bit more sense.
The two stories evolve side by side. Moritz in Siberia and Leo in his own wasteland.
Two very different love stories... except that all love stories are the same. Eventually.
Scheinmann tells his tale with such a lack of sentiment, that for the most part the 'love aspect' seems almost the least relevant. The reader is caught up in the suspense of it all, the simple suspense of lives unknown. Will Leo ever get himself together again... and if not, where exactly will his increasingly disturbing obsessions lead him? Will Moritz survive the next calamity, and if so what will he find if he ever makes it home?
And of course, the human brain being what it is, we cannot help but suppose a connection between the two stories.
This is one of the great strengths of Random Acts... quite simply it makes you want to know. Like silent Fischel standing by the bedside, you won't ask, but you need to know... what then?
I already adored this book, for the things it had made me think along the way... whether quantum physics really can explain love, or whether its just an excuse for science professors to catch up with their history colleagues in seducing students, how do we explain the behaviour of animals, and why should we try, what is a delusion and how much does it matter, and (as ever) ultimately what is it with us humans?!
I loved it for all the emotion that I understood but wasn't forced to feel... for the humour and stupidity that we indulge in to remind ourselves we are, surprisingly, still alive.
Anything which helps me understand a little better why Europe shatters and twists and realigns the way she does, is always welcome. One more peasant insight, one more soldier's vituperative outburst, one more aristocratic venting of blue-blooded spleen all helps. Scheinmann gives us these and more.
As ever I fell for the lyrical turn of phrase: not sleep but the relentless wringing of the spirit as if it were a wet rag that needed to shed its filth... or: each icicle had its own song to sing... and equally for Scheinmann's abrupt return to the brutal matters of sex or the chopping off of frostbitten toes.
And yet, for all the author had me hooked, for all I willed both Leo and Moritz to survive and prosper, it was only in the final few pages that Scheinmann moved me emotionally - and for all I'd figured out much of where he was leading, he did so masterfully. In the end, I wept for them all.
Is it for you? Clearly not if you want action adventure and thrilling mystery... but if love and life are mystery and suspense enough, this is a beautifully written merging of two love stories, at least one of which is truly heroic.
You might also like Enduring Love.
Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann is in the Richard and Judy Shortlist 2008.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann at Amazon.com.
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