Publication Date: May 26, 2015
List Price US $22.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5 x 7.5
List Price US $22.95
A sensation in France, this is a story about literary deceptions, family secrets, and a thrilling quest for the truth
Who is the real author of The Black Insignia? Is it H. R. Sanders, whose name is printed on the cover of every installment of the wildly successful young adult adventure series? Or is it Daniel Roche, the enigmatic world traveler who disappears for months at a time? When Daniel’s great-niece, Hélène, moves to Paris to study archeology, she does not expect to be searching for answers to these questions. As rumors circulate, however, that the twenty-fourth volume of The Black Insignia series will be the last, Hélène and her friend Guillaume, a devoted fan of her great-uncle’s books, set out to discover more about the man whose life eludes her. In so doing, she uncovers an explosive secret dating back to the darkest days of the Occupation.
In recounting the moment when one history began and another ended, The Travels of Daniel Ascher explores the true nature of fiction: is it a refuge, a lie, or a stand-in for mourning?
Excerpt from The Travels of Daniel Ascher
It wasn’t actually boredom that had made Hélène give up on The Ferrymen of the Amazon. The scant chapter she’d once read, a dozen or so pages, had made her feel short of breath, stifling under some burden. The story began with a catastrophe: a twin-engine plane flying over the Amazon rainforest stalls and crashes into the trees. The pilot and two photographers are killed, Peter Ashley-Mill is the only survivor. Despite deep wounds to his arm and chest, he manages to find the strength, wielding an axe, to hack his way through the climbers and giant trees, not sure whether he will find any humans, nor how they will receive him. Starving, hunched and in pain, he battles on, sometimes resting his hand on the oozing wound close to his heart, under his torn shirt. When he is collapsing with hunger, he digs up roots. Even though the parrots taunt him, You’re going to die, Peter, you’re going to die, he holds on, determined to survive at all costs so he can report the tragic deaths of his companions. But, overcome by exhaustion, pain and fever, he loses consciousness. A huge anaconda eases down from a branch and slowly wraps itself around his body.
She didn’t get any further, but the story haunted her all through her teenage years, she still sometimes dreamed that she was fighting through a hostile jungle, plying her way through the tree trunks and climbers, digging into the ground to find roots, to no avail.
“Haunting…the narrative reads like a mash-up of Sarah’s Key and The Book Thief, and it adroitly straddles the line between adult and YA literature. A piercing meditation on memory and history.” —Publishers Weekly
“[Déborah] Lévy-Bertherat has written an engaging yet ultimately melancholy and moving novel about a search for meaning with its roots buried in WWII France. A slender story but a satisfying one.” —Booklist
“[Déborah] Lévy-Bertherat’s debut novel is a story about storytelling—both historical and personal…The best moments in Lévy-Bertherat’s short novel involve people falling into stories…The writing is lovely.” —Kirkus Reviews
“All fiction readers will love [The Travels of Daniel Ascher].” —Library Journal
“[A] tightly layered debut novel…With an emphasis on our simultaneous needs to disguise our suffering and tell our stories, Lévy-Bertherat highlights a most human conundrum in a mystery whose resolution will fill readers with sorrow and hope.” —Shelf Awareness
“The Travels of Daniel Ascher is about the power of stories, particularly the ones we tell about ourselves. Within its svelte form, the novel packs in a love story (several actually), a family story, a war story, a mystery, a travelogue, and even a convincingly imagined children’s adventure series. All these strands weave together beautifully in this deftly plotted and deeply moving novel.” —Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Fabled Life of A.J. Fikry
“A startling, beautifully written novel that starts as a stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens and ends in a plunge into the dark, mysterious world of wartime Paris. A real thriller.” —Anka Muhlstein, author of Monsieur Proust’s Library
“Bewitching, charming.” —Elle (France)
“Déborah Lévy-Bertherat has a bright literary future.” —Lire
“A novel rich in reflections on identity, memory, and the power of fiction.” —Le Figaro
“A novel one reads in one sitting that brings us back to the time when traveling meant opening a book.” —Le Libraire (Quebec)
“The story—or rather, stories—of The Travels of Daniel Ascher are so rich, multi-layered, and moving that it is hard to believe it could all be contained in this small book.” —Lynn Roberts, Square Books (Oxford, MS)
“Hélène is in Paris as an archeology student, and all she knows about her eccentric great uncle, Daniel Roche, is that he is the author of a popular series of books called The Black Insignia. When it is announced that the final volume is about to be published, H. R. Sanders (the pen name) and Daniel Roche seem to need some investigation. What Hélène discovers in the house and about her family make for a delightful adventure.” —Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction (Missoula, MT)
“Déborah Lévy-Bertherat’s slim novel packs a powerful punch. Is Daniel Ascher a respected children’s author? A world traveler? Or a man so grief stricken that he has concocted an elaborate literary mystery? His niece sets out to discover the truth, and in doing so, uncovers a dark family secret. This is a book that both adults and older teens will enjoy as they too seek to find the truth about The Travels of Daniel Ascher.” —Pamela Klinger-Horn, Magers & Quinn Booksellers (Minneapolis, MN)
“Great Uncle Daniel wanders the world and brings back exotic souvenirs from foreign lands. He has done this since Hélène was a small child and his life has always been an intriguing, if vaguely frightening, mystery. He is also the famous author of the children’s action-adventure stories (23 books and counting!): The Black Insignia; a series of richly imagined and vividly described novels (think Harry Potter crossed with Tin-Tin) that have been read by nearly everyone Hélène knows or has ever met. But Daniel is not really her great uncle. He was adopted by her family at the end of World War II. He is a war orphan, a Jew, and he harbors a deep and troubling secret.” —Conrad Silverberg, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)
“Daniel. Ascher. Is. Perfect.
I can’t wait to share this book with our customers! This isn’t YA fiction that somebody slapped a “literary” sticker on and called it a day. It’s great literary fiction that will appeal to an astute YA audience, and that’s really hard to find. I’m also excited by the opportunity to share work in translation with our young readers. Reading this book is such a rich experience, from the history and cultural nuances to the wanderlust-inducing artifacts and exploration of fiction as refuge. Add a healthy dollop of family secrets and mystery on top, and wow! There isn’t anything else like it out there for teen readers. Emotionally resonant and a captivating page-turner? Yes, please!” —Mary Catherine Breed, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)
“The written word has both the capacity to hide and the power to reveal us. As H.R. Sanders, Daniel Roche is the successful writer of a famous series of adventure stories for children as famous in France as Tintin or the stories of Le Petit Nicolas. But Hélène, Daniel’s niece, is full of unanswered questions about her uncle’s past—and the clues are there, if only she can follow them. In The Travels of Daniel Ascher, objects are physically hidden in other objects, photographs are not what they seem, there are stories within stories, and a scrap of yellowed paper written in Hebrew may hold the key to everything. I read this novel in a day, in my pajamas, without leaving the sofa. I would recommend the same for anyone.” —Lysbeth Abrams, Eight Cousins Bookstore (Falmouth, MA)
“A huge hit in her native France, Lévy-Bertherat The Travels of Daniel Ascher is destined to be a crossover YA hit. Join Hélène and her accomplice Guillaume as they unravel the strange and dark past of her Uncle Daniel, the man-child with an explosive secret that could change all that Hélène knows about her life, her family, and the secret past that no one talks about. A fast-paced lyrical work of meta-fiction that is sure to enchant a wide range of readers, fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and The Book Thief will devour this novel. ” —Jeremy Kitchen, Richard J. Daley Branch, Chicago Public Library
1. Daniel Roche is a writer, a storyteller. Who else tells stories in the novel, and what are the stories they tell? Other than the stories in the Black Insignia series, what stories does Daniel tell?
2. The protagonist of The Black Insignia is asked, “Deep down, Peter, what is it that makes you love adventure?” Do you think Daniel Roche loves adventure? What prompts Hélène to start going on her own “adventures,” and how does her discovery change her life?
3. In what ways is Hélène’s detachment or discomfort within her newfound group of friends (p 15, “Hélène laughed along with them, but she wasn’t sure it was funny”; p 27, “but her voice got lost in the racket and no one heard her”) similar to Daniel’s relationship with his adopted family? Is this alienation present in any other part of the novel?
4. On page 29 the narrator explains, “[W]ars kill parents, no need to picture how it actually happens, and she glossed over the missing episode in the same way that, as a child, she used to skip the page where the mother dies in the book about Babar the elephant.” In what ways is the novel a psychological study of Hélène? Consider her initial indifference toward the Black Insignia books. How does her reaction to or opinion of the books change? What prompts this change? How does Hélène’s relationship with the books parallel her relationship with Daniel?
5. Compare Hélène’s relationship with the Black Insignia books to Guillaume’s and other fans’ relationship with them. Daniel and his books create a community among strangers, as shown in the interaction between Guillaume and the saleswoman on page 76. What kind of effect do he and his books have on the Roche family?
6. Where do you think Daniel spends all the time he doesn’t spend at the “many Roche family reunions” (p 9)? The Roche family is “bound for generations to their mountains in the Auvergne” (p 18). How would you describe the Ascher family? How would you describe Daniel Ascher, as Hélène comes to know him by the end of the novel?
7. What is the relationship between Daniel’s life as Daniel Roche and his fake travels, and his buried life as Daniel Ascher and his secret apartment? What does it mean that the Roche family is so dismissive of the Black Insignia books?
8. What is the relationship between fiction, discovery, and personal history? What is the significance of Daniel having written of his lost life as Daniel Ascher in the pages of The Smallest Atlas in the World?
9. Describe Hélène’s personality at the beginning of the novel and compare it to her initial impression of Daniel. As her understanding of Daniel deepens and changes, does Hélène herself change?
10. Guillaume and Daniel are both “still passionately connected with anything that reminded [them] of [their] childhood” (p 4). In the novel, is this preoccupation with childhood gendered? Why do you think Guillaume and Daniel both value childhood so much? How do their appreciation of childhood differ? How do Guillaume’s and Hélène’s appreciation for Daniel differ?
11. What is the relationship between Hélène’s initial aversion to The Black Insignia and Daniel, and her initial rejection of her ancestry? (See page 132: “Her ancestors were Chambons and Roches, Auvergne stock whose names and dates were known, the places where they were born and where they died, she’d seen their houses and their tombs in the cemetery.”) Are there any other instances where she rejects or refuses the knowledge of something?
12. On page 168 we’re told, “She was no longer looking for Daniel; she’d found him. She was at 16 rue d’Odessa.” Do you think Daniel has been searching for himself, just as Hélène has been? Considering how often Hélène feels that Daniel indulges in “performance” (pp 17, 54, 147), is there an irony to her finding the “real” Daniel in his reconstruction of the past?