cover image The Travels of Daniel Ascher

The Travels of Daniel Ascher

Deborah Levy-Bertherat, trans. from the French by Adrianna Hunter.. Other Press, $22.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-707-9

In this slender, haunting French novel, Helene Chambon is a 20-year-old who arrives in Paris in 1999 to study at the Institute of Archeology. She is staying with her great-uncle, Daniel Roche, a world traveler and author of the popular Black Insignia young adult book series, published under the pen name H.R. Sanders. Helene begins dating a fellow student, Guillaume, who turns out to be a devotee of the series. Helene, who has never been a fan of the books or close to her distant great-uncle, becomes curious about his personal history, because of Guillaume. She knows that her great-uncle is Jewish, that he was adopted by her family during World War II, and that his real name is Daniel Ascher. As she works to excavate her great-uncle's past, Helene comes to understand that Daniel's life is a series of mysteries. And the closer she gets to unlocking them, the more mysterious he becomes. The author has written a novel that takes the reader back to the occupation of Paris and France's complicated history with its Jewish population. The narrative reads like a mash-up of Sarah's Key and The Book Thief, and it adroitly straddles the line between adult and YA literature. A piercing meditation on memory and history, perhaps the book's greatest gift is the way it makes the reader believe that the Black Insignia series is real. (May)