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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Travels of Daniel Ascher

Déborah Lévy-Bertherat

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To purchase The Travels of Daniel Ascher

Title: The Travels of Daniel Ascher
Author: Déborah Lévy-Bertherat
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 189 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Travels of Daniel Ascher - US
The Travels of Daniel Ascher - UK
The Travels of Daniel Ascher - Canada
Les voyages de Daniel Ascher - Canada
The Travels of Daniel Ascher - India
Les voyages de Daniel Ascher - France
  • French title: Les voyages de Daniel Ascher
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter

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Our Assessment:

B : some good ideas, but lacks in focus and drive

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 23/3/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The author has written a novel that takes the reader back to the occupation of Paris and France's complicated history with its Jewish population. The narrative reads like a mash-up of Sarah's Key and The Book Thief, and it adroitly straddles the line between adult and YA literature. A piercing meditation on memory and history" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Travels of Daniel Ascher begins in 1999 with twenty-year-old Hélène coming to Paris to begin her studies at the Institute of Archaeology; though recounted in the third person (the novel opens: "When Hélène thinks back to that fall [...]"), the Epilogue, set more than a decade later, suggests the entire account is her own, the turn to third rather than first person perhaps a way to keep some distance from the story which hits so close to home.
       Hélène moves into a room loaned to her by her father's uncle, Daniel Roche, who lives -- when he's in Paris -- in a ground-floor apartment in the same building. Daniel was adopted into the family, and his name used to be Ascher; he is also well-known under yet another name, as H.R.Sanders, the author of the Black Insignia-series, now amounting to almost two dozen "adventure stories for children" from and about exotic locales. He frequently disappears, returning after long absences with stories of adventures from the farthest reaches of the globe -- and having sent postcards from these places, as well as bringing back small gifts -- always a small gemstone for Hélène (though: "she never knew what to do with them").
       Hélène hadn't even ever managed to get past the first pages of the first volume in her grand-uncle's series, but the enthusiasm of her fellow students and especially her first serious boyfriend lead her to finally make her way through them. She also spends a bit more time with her grand-uncle and learns more about his life; oddly, however, she never really probes very hard or asks him many questions.
       Daniel survived the Second World War, but most of his family did not. A relative in the United States did want to adopt him, too, and he did travel there, even before finishing high school, but he remained part of his new family, the Roches, and -- like after all his adventures -- returned to Paris. Hélène does some digging, trying to piece together Daniel's past and story -- though, again, oddly not turning to the obvious, the source, Daniel himself for all the answers.
       What happened to young Daniel was traumatic, and the escape he has turned to -- creating the worlds of the Black Insignia books -- is obviously his way of dealing with it. Just how much is creation, and just how much is rooted in what happened during the German Occupation is only slowly revealed, in some nice twists Lévy-Bertherat imagines, right down to Daniel's apartment, which itself is more than it seems.
       It's hard not to be reminded of the work of Patrick Modiano here, filled as The Travels of Daniel Ascher is with uncertain identities, pasts completely defined by the German Occupation, obscured memories and mementoes, complicated family dynamics, and shifting Paris itself. But Lévy-Bertherat doesn't quite have Modiano's skill and touch in her presentation.
       Lévy-Bertherat has good story here but it feels watered down, without sufficient focus on the most significant aspects; like Hélène herself, it drifts about too much -- and drifting far (Hélène follows the trail to America, for example) doesn't particularly help. Frustratingly, too, Daniel remains more object -- observed at a distance -- than subject-matter Hélène actively engages with: he is admittedly elusive, but it's still baffling that Hélène doesn't ask him more, directly.
       Just as The Travels of Daniel Ascher seems to hover between YA-title and 'adult' book, it never seems entirely sure what it wants to be -- and hence isn't entirely successful. A story that feels like it has a great deal of potential -- and one with some admittedly nice reveals -- it falls a bit short in every respect (in no small part because it seems to have ambitions to be so many different kinds of stories ...).

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 June 2015

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The Travels of Daniel Ascher: Reviews: Déborah Lévy-Bertherat: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Déborah Lévy-Bertherat teaches at the Ecole normale supérieure.

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