Summary – Chapter Nineteen, ‘Falling in Love, 1934-1941’, A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan) and Chapter Twenty, ‘An Overture to Illumination’
Chapter Nineteen returns to Jonathan’s narration and picks up the thread of the story of when his grandfather is employed by the Sloucher congregation to make house calls in the area. There is a list of the widows he sleeps with at this time and it is also explained that he has also had sex with virgins, with 52, and recreated the positions ‘from a dirty deck of cards’.
Reference is made to his studies at school, and then The Book of Antecedents is explained and how it includes large and lesser events. It also has a biennial census that includes a brief chronicle of the citizens’ life.
Several of the entries in the book are given and these include ‘The Novel, When Everyone Was Convinced He Had One in Him’. This explains how in the 19th century everyone in the shtetl thought they had at least one novel in them. More than 700 were written between 1850 and 1853. A special room was added to the library and almost a century later, a young boy looked for his great-grandfather’s book that was about love.
Another entry is entitled ‘The First Rape of Brod D’ and tells of Sofiowka’s rape of Brod. It also says how that day, and just after Yankel dies, the Kolker says he will not go away without her and she tells him there is something he must do for her then. The next day Sofiowka is found swinging from his neck from the wooden bridge. His severed hands are hanging from strings tied to his feet and across his chest the word ANIMAL is written in red lipstick.
The entry entitled ‘The Five Generations Between Brod and Safran’ explains how Brod’s eldest two sons died in the flour mill. Her third, who was conceived through the hole in the wall, lived a long and productive life and is the direct ancestor of Safran.
In the letter from Alex to Jonathan, dated 24 December 19997, Alex asks that they continue to send each other writings, but asks that they do not make corrections. He tells him of an argument he had with his father who was drunk, and how he answered him back for the first time.
He then says again about how he saves money by going to the beach instead of nightclubs and puts the money in a cookie jar. He tells of his grandfather coming to him at the beach and asking if he could borrow his money. He says he wanted to find ‘her’ (Augustine) and Alex mentions the name Herschel. Alex then asks him to take him with him. His grandfather says no and adds that he wants to find her alone and wants this to be their secret. Alex worries that if he goes he might not return and asks Jonathan what he should do.
In Chapter Twenty, Alex narrates their return to the hotel after visiting Trachimbrod. When the waitress says they are ‘back with the Jew’, his grandfather tells her to shut her mouth.
On Grandfather’s instigation, Jonathan opens the box from Lista/‘Augustine’ (which has ‘IN CASE’ written on it). Grandfather takes out a pearl necklace from it and it is dirty as though it too has been buried. Alex then takes out a map of the world from 1791 and Jonathan says he can have it. Alex says he will give it to his brother.
Jonathan takes out the The Book of Past Occurrences (The Book of Antecedents). Alex’s grandfather then takes out a photograph. Jonathan looks at it and says how one of them looks like Alex. There are two men, a woman and a baby in the picture. His grandfather looks at it too and says how small the world is. Grandfather explains that it was taken in Kolki (and that this is where he is from). He also says he is ‘a good person who has lived in a bad time’.
He asks Alex to translate everything he says for Jonathan and tells them the woman in the photograph is Alex’s grandmother and she is holding Alex’s father. The man next to Grandfather is his best friend Herschel. Herschel is wearing a skullcap because he was a Jew.
Analysis – Chapter Nineteen, ‘Falling in Love, 1934-1941’, A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan) and Chapter Twenty, ‘An Overture to Illumination’
As Alex, his grandfather and Jonathan look through the box from Lista in Chapter Twenty, the photograph of Alex’s grandfather and Herschel is found and Grandfather begins to reveal that his past has been hidden up to this point. He is from Kolki and, as has already been revealed, Herschel’s best friend was Eli (not Alexander, as Alex thinks is his grandfather’s name).
In the more recent past, and just before Chapter Twenty, Alex’s letter outlines how the journey they undertook to find Augustine and Trachimbrod has had a profound effect on his grandfather. His desire to find Augustine appears to be embedded in a desire to find some kind of salvation for what he has done in the past. This point is not stated clearly, and the reasons for his guilt have not yet been fully explained in the narrative (although Lista has made one explanation), but the cumulative suggestions point to a shameful secret.