Tucked in a box in my attic are letters I received over the years from my grandmother and mother. Now that both women have died, occasionally, I pull out these letters and, using my finger, outline their distinctive handwriting in order to feel some sort of connection. Nevertheless, very few people write actual letters anymore, e-mail being the means of communication today. This leads me to ask, where will all those electronic missives go years from now? Will tomorrow's generation lose something in this computer age?
Then there are the Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers and so on, leaving me to wonder if actual books will someday, much too soon, be a thing of the past. I suppose as long as people are still reading, there may be little cause for alarm. However, will our tracks of having been here, reflected by the books we read and write, be deleted? Will brick and mortar bookstores seem an unusual notion for the generations to come? I couldn't help but consider this while reading Miklos Vamos' The Book of Fathers, a novel that begins in 1705 and concludes in 1999. The Book of Fathers got its name from a journal that the men in this novel kept, a journal that survived for generations and stirred both memories, as well as inspiration for what was to come, from father to son.
Some readers read fiction for escape; for me, though, it's the anticipation of learning something new while hoping to have an appreciation of how the novelist brings the story to life. As for why a writer is inspired to tell a certain tale there are a variety of reasons, some more noble than others. Surprisingly, while The Book of Fathers meanders from one century to the next, the missing feature is an actual plotline. And, yet, because the writing is so good, even though it's the sort of writing that demands one's complete attention, it is a book worth spending time with. That said, it becomes apparent in the Author's Note that The Book of Fathers was a book the author needed to write as homage to his father and his father's father and so on. Readers are simply invited to come along for the journey, if they so choose, which is what I did.
Twelve chapters make up this tome and as I approached the 1930s, I began to feel queasy, knowing where this family line was heading--not that generations before had escaped horrors, but it was apparent that because there was Jewish blood in the mix, there would also be continued sorrow, even when there was vehement denial about having been born a Jew. Still, it is the early chapters that I found more fascinating, thanks to magical realism adding intrigue, but once I got past the 1940s, I found that I began to care less about these men; maybe it was because this tactile journal got forgotten along the way. Rather, it was early on in the novel, that I felt a connection to one of these men when The Book of Fathers ended up in his possession. His appreciation for what this book meant to him was summed up thusly:
When he gave up reading and reverie at dawn, he would extinguish the sooty candle, and in the dazzling darkness he would embrace the thick volume as a mother does her baby.
This is a reaction I can understand. Books, for me, have always been something to embrace and cherish, and I cannot imagine having the same reaction with an electronic reader. Yes, they will save trees from being felled, but it does seem that there is always something lost in the generational transference. Obvious, as it may be, this was one of the haunting lessons I learned from The Book of Fathers.