This is a really competent novel that has at its center a really fragile heart. I have always been wary of this book (it came out about 15 years ago), because I don’t really like the description of it, and I don’t think that it quite is what it says it is, and because of the title. The title refers to a novel written and published in Spanish by a Jewish writer of Argentine and European descent. The novel also happens to be a novel written by Leo Gursky, who sent a copy to his friend, who stole it and published it after translating it. It’s also the novel that made Alms Singer’s parents fall in love, and it’s also the novel that Alma’s mother is translating for an unknown benefactor, who has a strange connection and fascination to the book.
It’s also this novel. We start with Leopold Gursky, who is one of the many characters clearly named for writers and characters in this book. The references we get include Leopold and Molly Bloom from Ulysses, both directly and indirectly reference; Solomon Gursky by Mordecai Richler, the Jewish Canadian novelist, and Philip Roth. Leo is rediscovering his long lost son at the beginning of this novel, a contemporary novelist who won the National Book Award and earned praise by Philip Roth. Leo reflects on this news by thinking about his own lost book.
We move between Leo to Alma, 14 at the start, who has a dead father, a grieving mother working on the translation, and a brother who believes he might be a Jewish prophet of sorts, with mixed feelings. We also later get a narrative from the journals of the brother, who goes by Bird.
So all this amounts to a pretty heartfelt novel that was curious and interesting and ultimately compelling.