cover image Theseus, His New Life

Theseus, His New Life

Camille de Toledo, trans. from the French by Willard Wood. Other Press, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-63542-210-8

Grief and aimlessness imbue every page of de Toledo’s lyrical if diffuse English-language debut. Protagonist Theseus, spurred by the suicide of his older brother, Jerome, and the deaths of his parents, travels eastward from Paris in 2005, crossing into “what he believes is a new frontier.” The narrative moves fluidly back and forth in time as Theseus pieces together his father’s family history and its move from Germany to France in the 1930s by reading excerpts of a German ancestor’s manuscript. Theseus ends up spending 13 years living in Berlin, where his grief keeps a hold on him, and he takes to writing poetry, which de Toledo weaves in throughout. (In one poem, Theseus calls Berlin “an open-air cemetery haunted by last century’s ghosts.”) The more Theseus reflects on his parents’ stories and on Jerome’s death, the more tragic family history emerges from both world wars. It’s an evocative experiment, but a lack of clarity on what’s happening and how it all fits together blunts the impact. Though flawed, it’s worth a look for its elliptical and haunting style. (Jan.)