Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark.
Reviewed by Annabel Gaskell
This is the story of Gabriel Delacruz, orphan, international furniture remover, lover and father to four sons. Four boys – born in four different countries to four different mothers; one German, one English, one French and one Spanish, and all christened the local equivalent of the name Christopher, after the patron saint of travellers one assumes. They are not aware of each other’s existence, and none of them has seen their father for a couple of decades.
The ‘Four Christophers’ finally meet when the youngest, Cristòfol is contacted by the police when his father is reported missing. He discovers that he has three half-brothers, and so the Christophers meet to learn each other’s stories, but also to research their father, for they don’t believe he’s dead.
In fact, disappeared isn’t the correct verb, and if we’ve decided to find him, it’s to make sense of the word. Give it a body. Only somebody who’s previously appeared can disappear and that’s not the case with our father. We haven’t seen him for more than thirty years and the sum of our memories presents us with only a blurry image of him. It’s not as if he was a timid man, or naturally reserved, but he always seemed to have an escape route. He wasn’t edgy, anxious or mistrustful either. Sigrun says she fell in love with both his presence and his absence. Mireille recalls that as soon as he arrived it was as if he was leaving again. The brevity of his visits helped, of course. …
The brothers take it in turns to tell their stories. How their mothers met Gabriel, their births, and those rare visits throughout their childhood. Although they are four very different characters, they all get on well making up for lost time. One thing, apart from their father, that they do have in common is that their mothers were all independent women and despite the lack of a permanent father figure in their lives, they have made the most of things. They start meeting regularly to talk and search out Gabriel’s friends and acquaintances to help fill in the gaps.
Alongside Gabriel’s unfolding story is that of his fellow orphan and colleague Bundo. Together since their days in the orphanage, their undying friendship was the most touching part of this story. Whereas Gabriel had a woman in each port so to speak, there was only ever one girl for Bundo but he had to share her, for Carolina was a prostitute in a roadhouse outside Lyon in France.
One of the naughty but interesting things that Gabriel and Bundo did together along with fellow removers on the team was to retain one random box from the contents of each house move. They’d share out the contents, and Gabriel catalogued them – over 200 boxes in total over their career. One of those boxes had contained a ventriloquist’s dummy, which Gabriel passed on to his German son, Christof, who called it Christofini, and the two became inseparable. In fact, the dummy kept butting into the grown-up Christof’s part of the narrative, which did give a slightly surreal edge to things.
I particularly loved reading about Gabriel and Bundo, from their childhood through to their exploits around Europe over the years. Lovable rogues both, they are always up for a chance to make a bit on the side or a game of cards; not for them the misery of Spain under Franco. The sons’ stories weren’t quite as exciting in comparison, and as I read on, I did hope that they’d make progress on finding Gabriel, as this is not a short novel.
I won’t let on what finally happens, for this was a charming story told with humour and poignancy, and you may want to find it out for yourself. Catalan novels in translation are, it seems, beginning to emerge to find their niche in European literature. Lost Luggage is involving, readable and page-turning, engaging the reader so you don’t notice any quirks of translation – which must mean a job well done. Despite its length, Punti has created some memorable characters in his novel and I enjoyed the travels and travails of Gabriel, his friends and extended family a great deal.
Annabel is one of the Shiny New Books editors, and has never lost a box on a house move – yet!
Jordi Punti, Lost Luggage (Short Books, London, 2013) 1780722133, 480pp., paperback, May 2014.
This review is Annabel’s revision of the original posted on her blog.