Thursday, August 6, 2009

Random Acts of Heroic Love - Danny Scheinmann

First things first. I must thank Jackie from Farm Lane Books for sending this book to me for my birthday. This was not an unknown novel for me...I'd been hearing about it from Jackie since I started following her blog, and I knew it was her favorite read from 2008. Now this Jackie, for those of you that don't know her, is not an easy sell. It takes an amazing read to get her attention. I just knew I was in for all kinds of something good.

The book begins by alternating between two seemingly unrelated stories about enduring love:

The first story is about a young British gentleman, Leo, who has regained consciousness in an Ecuadorian hospital. He is told his beloved girlfriend, Eleni, is dead as a result of a bus crash. He refuses to believe it is true. He can't remember what even happened. But slowly it all comes back, and we watch this poor boy endure the raw emotion of heartbreaking loss, of refusing to leave her side, even through the autopsy and embalming process. He buries her in her homeland of Greece, then returns to England where he attempts to restart his life, reconnect with his friends, continue his PhD, and try not to see Eleni in every fly, bird and snail. He seeks answers in drink, sex, and quantum physics. He slowly descends into a pit of depression, guilt and isolation where nobody can reach him. Except for perhaps his father, who has his own secrets and lessons learned that he'd rather keep to himself.

The second story takes us back to WWI. A young, Jewish man, Moritz, is drafted to fight with the Austro-Hungarian forces against Russia, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart, Lotte. They have vowed to marry when he returns, and seals the deal with one chaste kiss. In battle, he witnesses the death of all of his friends, is captured as a POW and sent to a prison camp on the far side of Siberia, near Mongolia. He escapes and walks nearly 10,000 km over a five year period, encountering murderers, rapists, thieves, beggars and more than a few kind souls, all whom leave their marks on him. He is driven by the sole vision of Lotte waiting for him back in his hometown. But the closer he comes to salvation, the more frightened he becomes. Will she have assumed him dead after all these years? Will she have found someone else? Is she even alive?

As you hope and pray throughout the book, these stories do indeed dovetail into an amazing climax; intertwined fates that illustrate the horrors of grief, the power of love, and the endurance of spirit.

On the last page, we discover part of the story is semi-autobiographical. If you are even half-human, you are bound to be touched, maybe even cry. You are bound to remember this story for many months - it might even creep into your dreams. You are bound to place this book on your all-time favorite reads, like Jackie and now me. For a person who has been translating a diary of a relative that fought and survived WWI to return to marry his sweetheart, I can't begin to explain how this has affected me, and how I feel the book was placed before me at the perfect time.

5 out of 5 stars


Unknown said...

I am so pleased that you loved it as much as I did!

I am so sad that it is not well known in the US. It was really popular in the UK, but have only ever seen it on one other blog before yours.

I really hope that your review inspires a few other people to pick it up so that we can spread the word about this book.

The fact that this is all based on actual events makes this book even more powerful for me. Did you know the author also lost his girlfriend in a bus crash in South America? So sad.

Melody said...

Wow, this sounds like a powerful book to me! I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for the great review!

BTW, when's your birthday?

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - I left this book with my mom in Indiana. I told her she HAD to read it. And yes, knowing the back story was just the cherry on top. Get out the Kleenex! Thank you so much for the gift!

Melody - This one is a must read! It is worth chasing down. (June 21)

Beth F said...

Wow, wow, wow. Okay. Fantastic review. I am so sold on this book. I will have to squeeze it in somewhere and sometime fairly soon.

Susan said...

Sounds wonderful, Sandy!

Andreea said...

Two stories about enduring love – this book sounds wonderful!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - can't really say enough about this one. It really covers all the bases. It even made me laugh out loud a couple of times, which seems hard to imagine, but true. There was a fellow traveling with Moritz for awhile who made bitching an art form, that almost made me wet myself. You have to make room for reading it.

Susan - thanks! I know this book isn't widely recognized in the US, so it is my mission to spread the word!

Andreea - I could almost promise that even though this book might be a departure from your favorite type of book, you would love it!

Unknown said...

The author's name sounds very familiar to me. Has he written anything else I might have heard of.

Your translation project sounds very intersting, too. I am a big fan of old letters and journals.

Sandy Nawrot said...

James - Not to my knowledge. I'm not aware of anything else he has written, but would pick it up in a heartbeat if he has. Definitely a great storyteller. Yes the translation project is one of those things that consumes your thoughts and dreams. My only problem is getting my husband to sit his butt down and dedicate time to it. We are only about half way through the diary. We'll get there eventually! If I push him, he will rebel!

ds said...

First off, belated birthday happy wishes (how's that for garbled syntax)!! Secondly, any guy who tries to overcome grief through drink (normal) sex (also normal) and quantum physics (hello?!) has my attention. I will look for this book.

Finally,WWI for me is kind of like WWII for you; a touchstone, as it was my grandfather's war. So I am extra curious and interested in your translation project on many levels. (I know you guys are oenophiles--what kind of wine would it take to get your hubby to move on this project ;) only partly kidding)

Wonderful review, Sandy. Thank you.

The Bumbles said...

Wait - did you just say you are "only" halfway through translating the diary? Didn't you just bring it back from Poland like a month ago? And haven't you been out of town for a while since then? What are you - wonder woman?!?!?!

I'm not sure I can handle sad love stories. The library doesn't like pages all crumpled from the dampness of tears. I know, I know - you'll tell me to get it on audio instead ;0)

Sandy Nawrot said...

ds - Thanks for the BD wishes! This story would definitely push your buttons, with your connection to that war. When reading this book, I seriously was getting confused between the book and my husband's grandfather's diary. They are that similar. I know, I am doing my best at plying him with dinner and wine when he gets home, and the best I get out of him is a page or two. My efforts actually work against me because he gets tired! Now he's out of town for a week. Argh!

Bumbles - Well, we made most of our headway when we were in Poland. Once we got home, I lost him. Haha! You know, I don't even know if this book has an audio version. Yes it is emotional, but still, you really need to just grab a box of tissues and get to it!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Quite a compelling review!!! Definitely sounds like a "must add" to the TBR pile!

Serena said...

I started reading your review and then realized there had to be something about WWII in this book for someone to know you would love it.

Great review...sounds like a good book.

Carrie K. said...

With such a high recommendation from both you and Jackie, this is definitely going on my to-read list!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Rhapsody - If you are ever looking for a "sure thing" this is it!

Serena - actually this is all WWI, believe it or not. Perhaps I have found a new obsession!

Carrie - If you get your hands on it, you will not be disappointed, I promise!

Unknown said...

I'm so happy to see that so many people have been persuaded to pick up this book after your review!

I really hope that word of this book spreads now and am looking forward to reading many more reviews of this book in the blogging world!

I'm just sorry I won't be able to send a book as good as this for your birthday next year, but I'll try to think of one!

Heidenkind said...

Wow, this sounds like a great book! Wonderful review.

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

This sounds good!

Anna said...

Sounds like a fascinating book, and with the war aspect, you know I want to read it now. ;)

Diary of an Eccentric