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The Travels of Daniel Ascher
(Translated from French by Adriana Hunter)

160 pages
5” x 7 ½” Hardcover
First Edition
ISBN 9781590517079
Review Copy: Hardcover
Other Press
New York, New York, USA
Available HERE
Review by Nicole Tone

Being able to escape into literature has been difficult these days. When I was researching books that were being published this year, I picked titles that hinted at being able to transport me to another place. In the case of The Travels of Daniel Ascher, I was hoping to be transported to the streets of Paris and looking to get lost in a beautiful story about finding truth in fiction. I was not disappointed.

Opening with a vivid walk through Luxembourg Gardens, I instantly got lost in the details of the setting and was intrigued by the mention of The Black Insignia, a fictional book series shrouded in mystery, featuring a different name on the covers, but believed to be written by the main character’s great-uncle, Daniel​. For me, the mystery behind who Daniel actually is begins here, with Hélène, the main character (appropriately an archeology student) and great-niece of Daniel, beginning to dig through the layers of her family history to uncover the truth about who wrote the series and what the books had to do with newly unveiled family secrets. What helped with the immersion into this book was, as mentioned, the vivid details of life in Paris and in France. In fact, one of my favorite moments in the book, between Hélène and her love interest, Guillaume, a devoted fan of her great-uncle’s books, is surrounded by beautiful description:

[...] Hélène and Guillaume leaned against a seascape with towering turquoise waves crashing onto rocks. Their mouths drew together, and the back of Guillaume’s neck felt as soft as a child’s against Hélène’s hand. [...] Only yards away, the kid goats were coming back to life one by one. [...]
(p. 62).

With no actual dialogue in this translation, so much of the story is shown in these gentle details, which only helped further submerse me into the story.

Beautiful descriptions aside, it was the idea of finding truth in fiction that really had me interested in this book to begin with, and the reason I kept reading. As Hélène digs to find out more about Daniel, and her family’s history, what was interesting to me is that we see her past with her great-uncle, more than her present. It was as if understanding her own past would help her understand her great-uncle’s present. Intertwined with this history is also her history with The Black Insignia books:

[...] Hélène didn’t say anything. All these names, Itsme, Ahyam, Mi Yu, reminded her of her brother’s childhood games, and she was amazed to hear students, at their age, talking about these characters as if they’d met them yesterday. [...]
(p. 26).

For me, this was a comment on how much of our lives are intertwined with fiction, and it evoked a great nostalgia. So many of my fondest childhood memories center around books: the first time I was given a book by my great-grandmother, my grandmother reading me Peter Pan on sleepovers, and so on.

Once Hélène uncovered the truth of her uncle’s adventures, secrets dating back to the dark days of the Occupation, and the disappointment that went along with the discovery, I felt disappointed along with her, but it did not detract from my feelings for Daniel’s character. He was larger than life from the beginning, especially through Hélène’s memories. Guillaume displays this perfectly:

[...] Guillaume tried hard to persuade her that this trickery did nothing to detract from his admiration for Sanders; in fact, it made his travels seem all the more incredible if they were invited. [...]
(p. 140).

With bookshelves lined with hardcover and paperback-bound lies, does discovering a disappointing truth detract from what one feels about the author, or the characters? Essentially, this is the question that Lévy-Bertherat posed, and one that I can answer with a resounding “no.”

Nicole Tone has her BA in Creative Writing and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and is working toward her MFA in Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. In her free time, she is an editorial intern for REUTS Publications and the Industry News Coordinator for the Women Fiction Writers Association. You can follow her on Twitter at @nicoleatone or visit her website at nicoleatone.com.
• This book was sent to Alternating Current by the publisher. The reviewer does not know the author or publisher, but expressed interest in reviewing the book and requested it. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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