Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Archivist

When a graduate student named Roberta approaches Matthias about a collection of letters in his possession, he must reflect on his rocky marriage and determine the most honorable course of action. ''I was too afraid of her, of her fierceness -- of everything she was capable of seeing and feeling -- to love her sufficiently,” he tells Roberta. Unlike his passionate, jazz-addicted wife, Judith, who took her own life, Matthias is an ordinary man in his 60s who loves books and helping people find books. Despite his outward simplicity, he is concealing some dirt under the carpet. Roberta is the vacuum he needs to find closure and come clean about his cowardice and failings. Roberta is a near replica of Judith. Both characters are Jewish, determined at conducting their research and they both depend on Matthias to give them what they need.

Roberta explains to Matthias why she so desperately wants to read the letters between T.S. Eliot and his girlfriend, Emily Hale. Roberta’s parents were German Jews who converted to Christianity after they fled Nazi Germany. Roberta suspects the letters will contain information pertaining to conversion that will help her comprehend her parents’ decision.

The author, Martha Cooley, engineered "The Archivist" brilliantly. Everything is essential and intentional. Lonely journal entries by Judith in the middle of the book are sandwiched between scenes of Matthias and Roberta going out and getting to know each other. I believe this is to show the dark past that Mathias, in good conscience, cannot ignore. He cannot get over having forsaken his troubled wife. Discussing T.S. Eliot’s poetry and personal life is like holding up a mirror to his own experiences, but he has the benefit of T.S. Eliot’s mistakes to help him avoid making the same ones again.

I love this book for the complex characters, deep layers, and the subtle messages. I feel wiser after reading it, as if I’ve lived the characters’ lives and have gained a deeper understanding of relationships and what goes into making difficult decisions.

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