A poignant book. I recommend it.
There are many stories with this basic plot. Boy meets girl (well, an 85-year old world-renowned choreographer who was born to be a dancer meets a middle-aged waitress who dabbles in art) over coffee (which she serves). They fall in love, forgive themselves, and create something beautiful together. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Except it isn’t. It isn’t evident at first—you find out about the real stories (stories within stories) in layers—as you almost meet the characters. To take just one example, Teo, the 85-year old choreographer, explains to Vivi (the waitress and aspiring artist) that he always tells his dancers “Ad astra, reach for the stars.” An innocuous enough phrase; something an artist of his renown is expected to say even. Until you learn that this is what the high-ranking Nazi who had enslaved Teo during the War had told the young man in his ungentle mercies.
And Vivi, who is she? The child of a Holocaust survivor, she fell in love with a German—the one man her mother could never accept, ran away with him and then from him. From him, from Berlin, and perhaps most of all from herself. Before meeting Teo, she had been existing; watching people live lives but unable to do so herself.
But of course it isn’t just a story of Vivi and Teo—complex and fully-formed though they are. Many “minor” characters fill these pages. There is Pincho, whose family was forcefully evacuated from Gaza, and who (for six days of the week anyway) is a homosexual DJ. On the seventh day, on the Sabbath, Pincho goes to his parents’ home, “dons a skullcap and becomes the Pinhas of his boyhood.” And there is Leah, Vivi’s mother, who it turns out is not the woman her daughter took her to be and there are the cities: Berlin and Tel Aviv– characters in their own right. I could go on and on–impossible though it seems that so many varied and complex people can fit into a mere 240 pages–but I won’t because I really think you ought to read this heartbreaking and beautiful story.
I say this not just because Fallenberg’s writing is almost lyrical; not merely because he transports us to the various places he describes but mostly because Fallenberg not only loves his characters but accepts them. Take Pincho, for example. There is no subtle (or otherwise) admonition to the reader to accept gay people whatever their religious or political persuasion. Pincho is a gay and Orthodox DJ. That’s just who he is. And since Fallenberg accepts him, so did I, the reader.
And yet…how many times have you read a book whose author not only loves his creation but also accepts them? Maybe I had a very sheltered reading life, but for me this was a refreshingly new experience.
And that is why I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful little book to you.