In­ti­mate par­al­lels in two di­aries

Amanda Hop­kin­son en­joys a blend­ing of lives. Peter Law­son wel­comes the fa­mil­iar and the for­eign (Rus­sian) Where to Find Me

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Alba Arikha

Alma Books, £12.99

Re­viewed by Amanda Hop­kin­son

ALBA ARIKHA was named af­ter an epony­mous poem by Sa­muel Beck­ett, her god­fa­ther. Her mother is the Amer­i­can poet, Anne Atik, who has writ­ten a me­moir of Beck­ett; her fa­ther, the French-Is­raeli artist, Avig­dor Arikha. Alba was ed­u­cated in Paris and New York. She has told an in­ter­viewer: “Be­ing Jewish is an aside, like hair or eye colour…” and she ex­plored her com­ing-of-age in an ear­lier book, Ma­jor/Mi­nor.

In this new novel, Flora and Han­nah, born a gen­er­a­tion apart, tell their al­ter­nat­ing ado­les­cent sto­ries, in­fused by the legacy of the Shoah, as was Alba’s own.

Flora’s opens in Paris, sum­mer 1939, scene of first love (“Jean writes po­etry for me on bus tick­ets… kisses me on street cor­ners, and tells me I’m the one”). He dumps her as an­tisemitism in­ten­si­fies, and soon Flora will lose both par­ents, de­ported to Auschwitz.

She reaches Pales­tine, whose ini­tially lib­er­at­ing ex­panses — of deserts, seas and skies — be­come the back­drop in the bat­tle to de­pose the British man­date and in­stall a bib­li­cal home­land.

Flora is now in love with a charis­matic Czech re­put­edly re­lated to Kafka. Their driv­ing pas­sions ex­tend be­yond Alba Arikha: con­nects gen­er­a­tions. Above left: her god­fa­ther Sa­muel Beck­ett sketched by Avig­dor Arikha their com­mon love of po­etry, art and each other. It is the time of the bomb at­tack on the King David Ho­tel by the Ir­gun, an or­gan­i­sa­tion Flora has grown closer to than she re­alises. She leaves, via a Paris she can no longer in­habit, for Lon­don, where she works as a tu­tor, a trans­la­tor, in Sel­fridges sell­ing per­fumes, and at St Martin’s as an artist’s model. She falls, first, for the (un­likely) de­scen­dant of Robert Schu­mann; then for his moral op­po­site, world-renowned con­duc­tor Henry Dobbs.

Han­nah’s story opens mid-1986, “with the ar­rival of a let­ter of ac­cep­tance into St. Paul’s School. I was six­teen years old and thrilled”. She, too, has en­coun­tered first love, in the per­son of Arun, late of Cal­cutta, and “some sort of maths ge­nius… I was his first girl­friend; he was my sec­ond kiss”. Fury tears at her fam­ily, for which her an­gry, way­ward brother Ben is the light­ning rod.

She grows up liv­ing op­po­site the now el­derly Flora in a pre-gen­tri­fied Not­ting Hill. Each is pro­foundly in­trigued by the other — yet they meet to talk only once. Han­nah both sees too much of what goes on over the road and con­ceals what she can­not re­veal.

In a book of many se­crets and clan­des­tine ac­tiv­ity, the fi­nal clue lies in the ti­tle. Where to Find Me con­cerns two di­aries more in­ter­twined than ei­ther writer knew. There are traces of po­etry and paint­ing — in­clud­ing a metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to colour in pas­sages de­scrib­ing Paris, Jerusalem and Lon­don. Yet it is not in those cities but in their note­books that each of the pro­tag­o­nists can be found. Two lives as close as their houses, bound never to con­nect.

Amanda Hop­kin­son is a writer and trans­la­tor

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