The plane rose above the clouds, the ocean disappeared. Perhaps that was what becoming an adult was, emerging from the clouds, leaving behind the sweet half-light of childhood, coming out into the blinding clarity of a truth you haven’t asked to know.
(from The Travels of Daniel Ascher)
Quick summary: The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, follows Hélène, a 20-year-old archeology student living in her great-uncle Daniel’s Paris apartment. Hélène remembers Daniel’s antics at family gatherings over the years, acting out the travels that formed the basis of the young adult adventure series he writes under the pen name H.R. Sanders. Hélène wasn’t as enthralled with Daniel’s stories as the other children and never read The Black Insignia series. However, when a friend from school discovers that she is related to his favorite author, Hélène grows increasingly interested in her mysterious great-uncle, but all she knows is that he’s really Daniel Ascher and was adopted by her family as a child when his parents were deported during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II. Hélène pieces together the fragments of her great-uncle’s life and stumbles upon a secret that could tear her family apart.
Why I wanted to read it: I’m always intrigued by wartime stories and secrets.
What I liked: I liked Daniel for his complexity, and I was fascinated by his ability (or necessity) to navigate different personae. He was the only character I grew to like over the course of the novel, and the only character I felt was fully developed.
What I disliked: The writing style kept me at arm’s length from the story, particularly the run-on sentences, the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue, and the abrupt ending to the chapters. Aside from Daniel, I didn’t really care for any of the characters, but in the end, the story was really about him anyway. I must admit that I struggled at times to finish the book, but in the end, I continued because it was so short (less than 200 pages), and I wanted to know what happened to Daniel.
Final thoughts: Overall, I thought The Travels of Daniel Ascher was interesting, particularly the way the layers of Daniel’s story were peeled back and his secrets were revealed. I’m not sure if the issues I had with the writing style had anything to do with the translation, and while these issues made finishing the novel a challenge at times, I’m glad I plowed through to the end. I was satisfied with how Daniel’s story was wrapped up and impressed with how Lévy-Bertherat creatively illustrated the challenges faced by Holocaust survivors, particularly children, in navigating the post-war world on their own. Daniel’s coping mechanisms were both fascinating and heartbreaking, and even if I didn’t love this novel, Daniel is a character I won’t easily forget.
Disclosure: I received The Travels of Daniel Ascher from Other Press for review.
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