An antiphonal narrative covers a physical trek from Siberia to Poland around the time of the Russian Revolution and an emotional journey from grief to love in the early 1990s.
While on an adventurous journey to Ecuador in 1992, Leo Deakin and his Greek lover Eleni have an accident that leaves her dead and him inconsolable. After Eleni’s funeral, Leo makes his way home to England to continue his academic work (he’s writing a dissertation on ants), but he’s crushed by grief and unable to concentrate. His father Frank is uncommunicative and of little therapeutic help; ditto for Charlotte Philips, a saccharine bereavement counselor: “If marzipan could speak it would sound like Mrs. Charlotte Philips.” Leo’s friend Hannah is sympathetic, though she seems at first ill suited to be Leo’s romantic partner. Meanwhile, Leo latches on to Roberto Panconesi, a charismatic physics professor who promises to provide a philosophical framework making sense of the apparent randomness of life. The novel alternates between Leo’s despair and a seemingly unconnected narrative in which Moritz Daniecki recounts the story of his life to his young son Fischel in 1938, a few weeks after Kristallnacht. Moritz’s life has also been one of tragedy and loss. His incipient, innocent love for Lotte was interrupted by his service in World War I; after being captured by the Russians and imprisoned in Siberia, he made his way back to Poland and learned that Lotte was living in Vienna and engaged to be married. The reader must have faith that these deftly juxtaposed stories at some point will intersect—and toward the end of the novel they do, with satisfying resonance.
While at times predictable and prosaic, the mutually reinforcing narratives ultimately convey debut novelist Scheinmann’s message of the redemptive power of love.