The Georgia Straight

June 9, 2011

August 28, 2003

Review by Ivan Coyote

Certain books make you put them down, midpage, and ponder. Claudia Casper’s The Continuation of Love by Other Means made me meditate on all the grey areas: the fine line between idealist and zealot, the point where self-interest becomes selfish, the language-less gap where men and women cease to understand each other.

Casper (The Reconstruction) unwinds a powerfully imagined tale of a self-made man and his oldest child, the daughter of the first of his many marriages. Alfred, once a penniless immigrant from wartime Germany, eventually becomes a wealthy mining engineer who loves and works around the world. Carmen, his almost beautiful daughter, travels from Canada to visit him in Europe, or Brazil, or Argentina. These yearly visits reveal insight into their characters; as Carmen grows up and meets each of her father’s new wives and her half-siblings, Alfred attempts in his aging-gigolo way to understand anew this increasingly sexually confident young woman who once was his child.

“It seemed ironic that back in Canada, the land of the free, she felt so drab and unsexy, while here, where repression and machismo ruled, she loosened up, came into her body, became more beautiful. Feeling beautiful could be a complex, unpredictable phenomenon… It came capriciously and, at least for Carmen, with an uneasy undercurrent though its aesthetic was one of balance and symmetry, its power felt off-balance, volatile, unstable.”

Carmen’s feminism and leftist politics inevitably collide with her father’s life in Argentina during the time of the Dirty War, where he is working for the regime and sleeping around on yet another of his lovely young wives. Carmen’s idealism and her life of oblivious safety and privilege enrage Alfred, who witnessed the atrocities of Nazi Germany: “A life was such a pitiable amount of time – you wanted every scrap that was coming to you…. This was not something you could learn about in university or books; it was life and it knocked on your door anytime of day or night.”

Casper uses descriptions of the mating habits of the flatworms, snails, slugs and peacocks that Carmen studies in school to tie knots in the string of meditations on love, loss, and what life really is. Recommend to recently divorced friends.