Summary of Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen
V. begins looking for the Russian woman in Sebastian's life. He starts at the Beaumont Hotel in Blauberg where he had met her in 1929 during his treatment. The hotel manager will not show V. the hotel register for that time, and V. leaves, frustrated. V. takes the train back to Strasbourg and meets a strange man on the train with an accent. V. is annoyed by his conversation. The man, called Silbermann, says he used to be a police detective and offers to do an investigation for V.V. wants a list of all women who stayed at the hotel in June, 1929. V. stays in Strasbourg until Silbermann finishes his task.
Silbermann gets a list of forty-two names, with only four possible women who fit the description of a Russian lover: LidyaBohemsky; Madame de Rechnoy; Helene Grinstein; and Helene von Graun who had sung Russian songs. Silbermann begs V. not to look for her and does not charge V. a fee.
In Berlin, V. hunts down the home of Frau Helene Grinstein, only to find himself in the middle of a Russian funeral. This woman was not the one who knew Sebastian but she does give V. a clue about the past, for she knows the Rosanovs, the old Russian neighbors of V.'s family. She tells him to look them up in town, and he does, enabled to gather the story of Sebastian's first love at sixteen to Natasha Rosanov. It was a summer romance that ended when Natasha went back to school in love with someone else. She is now a plump mother but tells him the story. Natasha's brother, Sebastian's school friend, is the one who drives V. to the station to catch the Paris train. V. begs Rosanov for some memory of his brother, but he is unable to recall anything, except that Sebastian was unpopular at school. V. did not get what he came for, but found something else: Sebastian's first love at sixteen is set next to his last love before he died at the young age of thirty-six.
Commentary on Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen
This is a very funny section, especially in the interaction with Silbermann. His accent and mannerisms are clownish, as he offers to sell V. watches, cigarette cases, sports equipment, and finally, information. He does not charge V. because he feels sympathetic, he says, and he keeps giving the advice, “You can't see de odder side of de moon. Please donnt search de woman . . . She donnt remember your brodder” (Chpt. 14, p. 132)
V. notes that his quest is not in a straight line, and so he has to accept the gift of a diversion to the Rosanovs. Ordinarily a biographer would put Sebastian's first love in the beginning, but this is where V. finds out about it, so he tells it here. It is both sad and funny how the Rosanovs remember his brother. We assume that Natasha can only tell her side of the story, and that it will not tell V. anything about Sebastian's inner experience. In fact, V. recounts the story Natasha told him of their romance as if he is looking at an unfinished painting and trying to fill in the images. He cannot fill in much about the girl, and Sebastian is only a sunburnt arm and book of poetry. The rest he imagines from Sebastian's point of view, about the glorious Russian summer landscape and reading Byron aloud to the girl. We get the impression that it would have been a typical first love of a romantic boy, mostly literary and full of his own feeling. Natasha hardly seems the type who could have moved his soul. In fact, she is hardly in the picture at all, “a mere outline” (Chpt. 14, p. 138). Once again, it is V. who has to fill in the blanks. The summer romance can also be taken as a parody of a poet's first love. Sebastian is reading the poetry of Lord Byron, the famous English Romantic poet, and he probably imagines he is Byron. He also tragically dies at the age of thirty-six, like Byron.