Rose Tremain •
The Way I Found Her •
Thirteen-year-old Lewis is spending a summer in Paris while his mother translates the work of a Russian writer, Valentina. Lewis falls for Valentina big time: her beautiful laugh, the scent of her Cerise lipstick, the soft weight of her body when he tries to teach her to swim. “My bum’s out of the water, darling,” she objects. “You don’t see the bums of swimmers sticking up out of the water in the Olympics.”
And then one day she walks through a revolving door and disappears.
Lewis’s love and yearning propel him to search for Valentina after everyone else has given up. When he does eventually find her, it’s through language and observation, talents he has honed by writing down what he sees in a little notebook. “I expect his syntax is often devoid of the definite article because everything in Russia has become too complicated to define.”
Tremain pulls a disappearing act of her own: The writing is so unobtrusive that you don’t notice how good it is—you’re being swept along by the powerful undertow of the plot. A dog-grooming salon, Catherine the Great, plagiarism, roof tilers, a toy soldier, and Le Grand Meaulnes all blend in a seamless whole.
There’s no shortage of humor, either. When Lewis asks Violette, the maid from Benin, for advice about defending himself, he expects to learn “some brilliant voodoo method of using a harmless kitchen utensil as a lethal weapon.” Instead she says, “I’d take a knife, stupid!”
Later, one of Valentina’s captors tells Lewis he smells like a rat. “I asked him how he knew what a rat smelled like, but he didn’t answer.”
Novelist Carolyn See says of this book, “I can’t think of anything else like it in the English language.”