After reading Random Acts of Heroic Love, it's easy
to understand why it was chosen as a Richard and Judy Book Club pick (Britain's
equivalent of an Oprah Book Club pick). Two intense love stories are told from
male viewpoints, each one inspired by events in author Danny Scheinmann's life
and family history. Leo's story (1992) is told in third person and Moritz's
story (1918) is a first-person narration. The stories are told in alternating
chapters with two distinct voices, and twine together as the novel seeks answers
to difficult questions about love and loss.
The contemporary love story takes place when Leo, age 25, loses Elini, the love of his young life, in a bus crash. Although Leo was with her, he has no recollection of the event. However, as his memory returns, he remembers that he insisted on choosing her seat, the only seat on the bus that resulted in a passenger's death. Now in addition to grief, he deals with guilt. Because he has trouble overcoming his profound grief and guilt, he spends his days wrestling with such elusive matters as bereavement and the nature of love. When he meets Roberto, a scientist, he begins to find comfort in their dialogues and advice. "He told me that I should consider the universe like a picture. Move one thing and the whole picture changes. Some people call it the cosmic dance."
The second love story is that of Mortiz Daniecki, a World War I survivor who escapes from a POW camp in Siberia. The memory of a young girl, Lotte, and her pre-war kiss motivates him to stay alive so he can find her once again -- so much so that he walks over 3000 miles, a journey of three years from Vladivostok to his hometown of Ulanow, Poland. This part of the novel is based on the true story of the author's grandfather, Moshe Scheinmann. Leo's story is also somewhat autobiographical, based on a loss in Scheinmann's life. As Scheinmann says on his website, "I enjoy unearthing old stories that have lain dormant for many years and breathing life in to them by telling them to whoever will listen."
Leo's journal entries, which are placed randomly throughout both stories, comprise a third section of the book. The journal would make a lovely book unto itself with profound gems of wisdom from noted writers of science and literature, such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Einstein and Pasteur. In addition, the journal contains beautiful photographs and sketches of animals as well as explanations of their unique mating habits. (See Did You Know Section). Scientific explanations of albatross, crabs and the Emperor Moth mating aren't exactly what one expects in a work of fiction, a novel of love, but by the end of the book this reader was in awe of the way Scheinmann incorporates these elements to demonstrate the connection between all creatures in the universe, animals as well as humans. The connection between the stories and the journal entries is an exploration of the idea that in this universe "all things are one", and as we travel with Leo and Moritz in their love-quests, the journey is not only physical but philosophical.
A visit to Scheinmann's website reveals his inspirations and motivations, as he remarks, "To tell a love story is one thing, (it's all very nice, been done a million times, never fails) but is it possible to go deeper in to the psyche of the reader and move them far more profoundly?" Using his ideas about oral storytelling and the subconscious, he seeks to engage the rational mind of the reader with discussions of quantum physics and scientific phenomenon, and loosen his or her emotional response to the more elusive concepts of love and loss.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has lost a loved one and struggled to make sense of the "Why?"
Danny Scheinmann graduated in Law from both the London School of Economics
and University of Strasbourgh (France). He also obtained a degree in Theatre
Studies. His acting career included A Midsummer Nights Dream for the
English Shakespeare Company and an 18-month tour with the David Glass Ensemble
in the Hansel Gretel Machine.
His greatest passion, however, is story-telling. "I have been passionate about story-telling for 20 years. Storytelling is the foundation of all drama. Sadly, in our culture direct, oral tradition storytelling is almost dead. We hardly have the confidence to tell our children stories without referring to books."
Random Acts of Love is Scheinmann's first novel which took him six years to complete, writing ten drafts and four or five "polishes." He has just completed the first draft of the story for film.
This review is from the February 5, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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