When I was a boy I liked to write. It was the only thing I wanted to with my life. (1.14)
Leo laments—with a note of bitterness—in these lines, as circumstances prevented from him from living his dream.
I started again. This time I didn't write about real things and I didn't write about imaginary things. I wrote about the only thing I knew. The pages piled up. (1.15)
Leo suggests that his beloved occupies a place between the real and the imaginary—and that she's the only thing he really knows. What do you think he means by this? How can he not know about all the things that are real? More to the point, why is she not real herself? And why is she so much easier to write about than normal real stuff?
At times I believed that the last page of my book and the last page of my life were one and the same, that when my book ended I'd end, a great wind would sweep though my rooms carrying the pages away, and when the air cleared of all those fluttering white sheets the room would be silent, the chair were I sat would be empty. (1.24)
From this statement, one might expect the book to be a memoir or an autobiography that encapsulates Leo's life. But, as far as the reader knows, it's not. What does this say about his self-conception? Or the value he places on being able to express himself in writing?
She wrote to my father in Israel almost every day on expensive French stationary, and when she ran out of that she wrote to him on graph paper torn out of a notebook. (2.10)
How does this symbolize the course of many long-distance relationships? And how is this one different?
She spent a lot of time in the Bodleian Library reading hundreds of books and not making any friends. (2.10)
As we mentioned in the "Loneliness" theme section, there's a distinct connection between a love of literature and a life of solitude.
She started to work again. She roamed the house in a kimono printed with red flowers, and wherever she went a trail of crumpled pages followed. Before Dad died, she used to be neater. But now if you wanted to find her all you had to do was follow the pages of crossed-out words, and at the end of the trail she'd be there. (2.18)
The "crumpled pages" are interesting. It's almost as if, by discarding these precious words, she's encouraged to emerge from her lonely cocoon.
I started to keep a notebook called How to Survive in the Wild. (2.22)
Only a true bibliophile would prepare for an eventual exodus from the world of books by, yes, keeping a notebook of what she may find in the world beyond.
5. ONCE I USED THE PEN TO WRITE TO MY FATHER (5.5)
Many of Alma's relationships are epistolary (that is, conducted via letter-writing)—for example, her Russian pen pals, Jacob Marcus, and the readers of this book. Here, she finds a connection to her father by writing him a letter too, although she adds at the end, "I'm writing this but I know that you can't read it" (5.6).
A bitter joke came to mind. Words failed me. And yet. I clutched the pages, afraid my mind was playing tricks on me, that I would look down and find them blank. (7.3)
Leo exposes how reliant he is on words, despite spending decades away from writing. They are, in effect, his most prized possession—or maybe not so much the words themselves, but his capacity to put them on the page.
6. Did they like it? (7.24)
Why does Leo cross this out? Is it because he doesn't want to feel like he wants approval? Do you buy it?