In this dramatic novel haunted by the Holocaust, a man stumbles upon an old collection of letters that raise provocative questions about his grandfather’s death.
Seattle engineer Avi Arutiyan’s uncle Sarkis dies and leaves him his house in Hermosa Beach, California—a small, dilapidated structure that originally belonged to Avi’s grandfather, Aram. There, Avi discovers a valise filled with correspondence addressed to Aram from David Levy, a survivor of the Holocaust who was imprisoned at Auschwitz. Aram was apparently murdered in Germany in 1965, during a burglary, but the case was never officially solved. Levy cryptically refers to acquiring “military supplies,” but it’s unclear for what purpose. Avi decides to investigate, hungry to understand his hidden family history. He pleads for answers from his mother: “This family’s been full of secrets,” Avi says. “I don’t know who my grandfather was, or my father, or my uncle, or even my brother. They are all gone, and I don’t have anyone to ask but you.” Bell (The Metronome, 2014) artfully weaves an intricate plot that’s so labyrinthine it flirts with convolution, showing one family’s connections to both the Holocaust and the 1915 Armenian genocide. The text jumps back and forth in time from Avi’s contemporary investigation to the early 1960s, when Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s war crimes trial stirred painful memories for many people, including Aram and David. Bell tells the story kaleidoscopically, shifting the narrative from one character’s perspective to another, creating a kind of literary panopticon. Avi’s background is Armenian and Jewish, but he doesn’t feel particularly connected to either identity, and Bell poignantly depicts the character’s alienation as he learns more about his family’s past; later, for example, it’s revealed that Avi’s half brother, Armenian freedom fighter Tigran, apparently died while wiring a bomb. Throughout, Bell masterfully combines his mystery story with an unflinching look at the 20th century’s bleakest tragedies.
A beautiful but challengingly complex tale of the ramifications of history.