Summary – A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan), Chapter Four, ‘An Overture to Encountering the Hero, and Then Encountering the Hero’, Chapter Five, The Book of Recurrent Dreams, 1791’ and Chapter Six, ‘Falling in Love, 1791-1796’.
The letter is dated 20 July 1997 and is from Alex to Jonathan. In the first paragraph he says how he has ‘fatigued the thesaurus’ that Jonathan gave him. He also offers some consolation to him for having a box stolen on the train on his way home. He apologizes for not finding Augustine and for not being a better translator, and thanks him for sending a copy of the photograph of Augustine.
He also refers to how his grandfather has been crying since they returned from Lutsk and lives with them permanently now. He then makes a passing reference to his younger brother, the Clumsy One (Little Igor), and how he has a bruised eye.
In Chapter Four, which is narrated by Alex, the time shifts back to when he and his father and grandfather make a plan for meeting Jonathan at the Lvov train station for when he comes on his trip. It is also related how his father argues with him when he lets him know that he wants to go the United States, and says how his father punches him.
He describes meeting Jonathan at the train station and how he is ‘underwhelmed’ by this. At this time, they go to the car where grandfather is sleeping. When he and the dog awake, Jonathan says he is frightened of dogs, but grandfather insists that the ‘bitch and the Jew’ share the back seat.
Chapter Five is set in the 1790s and is narrated by Jonathan and he explains how the Sloucher weekly service is taking place, and Didl S, ‘the narcoleptic potato farmer’, reads from the Book of Recurrent Dreams. Two members of the Upright congregation interrupt chanting. They ask for Yankel and when he shows himself they tell him he will be the father of their baby. Yankel is suddenly overcome with a strong fear of dying.
Yankel takes the baby home in Chapter Six and talks to the baby as if she can understand him. He has already lost two babies and his wife left him for another man.
The narrator tells how she left him a note on their welcome mat, and it said she had to do it for herself. He could not bear to keep the note but could not destroy it either. He tried to lose it, ‘but it was always there’. He has lost other things, even the name Safran, but cannot lose the note.
It is explained how after he pleaded guilty to all charges of unfit practice he left the shtetl for three years. When he came back, he changed his name to Yankel, which is the name of the man who ran off with his wife, and wore the bead of shame.
After he is given the baby, he feels it is a chance for him to live without shame. He names her Brod after the river she was found in, and he gives her a string necklace of her own with a tiny abacus bead so that she will not feel out of place in her own family. As she grows up, he tells her stories of her mother (invented of course as he does not know who her mother is) and how she was his wife (and so he tells her he is her biological father).
Analysis – A Letter (from Alex to Jonathan), Chapter Four, ‘An Overture to Encountering the Hero, and Then Encountering the Hero’, Chapter Five, The Book of Recurrent Dreams, 1791’ and Chapter Six, ‘Falling in Love, 1791-1796’.
The main structure of the novel is encapsulated in these sections. This is because the novel is largely made up of these letters from Alex to Jonathan, chapters concerned with the recent past that are narrated by Alex and the stories of Trachimbrod that are narrated by Jonathan. This switching between different times and different voices is confusing initially until the readers become accustomed to the way the separate narratives come together.
The letter from Alex to Jonathan is of particular note because it explains what has been suggested in his contorted use of English. That is, he refers to his use of a thesaurus in the writing of these letters and sections and this explains the at times humorous use of language.