L.A. TIMES / APRIL 1, 2007
By Susan Salter Reynolds
WHOSE story is this, anyway? Could it be Victoria Redel's? (A principal character's surname is Lejdel.) Could it belong to 17-year-old Itzak Lejdel, fleeing Europe in 1940, who is denied entry both to the U.S. and Mexico? Or the dapper Itzak in New York several decades later, his name changed to Richard Leader? Perhaps it's his daughter's story. At 41, Sara Leader, a professor translating the work of Walter Benjamin, loves her father but is frustrated by his refusal to reveal his background. Certainly it will one day be the story of the little girl, another refugee in many ways, whom Sara adopts, though she barely appears (waiting, curled up in our reading of this multilayered novel).
"The Border of Truth" is such a good novel that it could also be any American's story. It begins in 1940 with a letter from Itzak to Eleanor Roosevelt, who he believes can help him and his mother, passengers on the Quanza, obtain visas to disembark. Itzak invests this and subsequent letters with all his estimable talents as writer, charmer and child-citizen of the world. The novel alternates between his letters and Sara's thoughts as she wanders the streets of New York, much like Clarissa Dalloway preparing for her party. Sara visits her father's apartment; the New York Society Library, where she's pursuing research on Benjamin; and a furniture-repair shop run by a hippie named Ethan.
As if the war were not enough darkness to run from, Richard Leader has another secret, one he most wants to spare his daughter. Redel circles this life-changing moment, casts in its general direction, croons to it gently and reels it in, presenting it to Sara with a kindly reluctance. This from a writer who can be ferocious, unflinching, when it comes to the many kinds of pain that love causes. In her first novel, "Loverboy," she sank her teeth into the pure pain of filial love; in this one, she watches from a dispassionate distance as that pain spreads out through generations.