No. 4 Imperial Lane
By Jonathan Weisman
David Heller is an American who, after studying for a year at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, decides to stay on to be close to a young woman he has fallen for. He moves to Brighton, where she lives, and gets a post with the Community Service Volunteers as a live-in helper to Hans Bromwell, a quadriplegic. Little does David know that by moving in with Hans, he will become a part of his family, and family history.
Hans lives with his sister Elizabeth, and in the evenings, after David is done with his daily duties, he settles into the kitchen with her. While Elizabeth sips vodka she tells him stories of her life. In her early 20s, Elizabeth travelled to Portugal on vacation and fell in love with Joao, a Portuguese doctor who shared her passion for, and recall of, Shakespeare. They marry shortly there after and she travels and lives in Africa with him, where he works for the Portuguese army as a doctor in the 1970s.
The book alternates between David’s story in late 80s England, where he makes the best of the tasks he has to do to keep Hans comfortable, and tries to stay connected to his girlfriend, who he doesn’t see very often, and with the story of Elizabeth’s young adult life with Joao in Africa.
I found the book a little slow to get into, mainly because I expected it to be more about David than it is. I was surprised when the narration jumped into a third person voice that told Elizabeth’s story. But once I got used to the alternating chapters/stories, I became engrossed in her tale. And as her story develops, the book moves to a dramatic and satisfying end that explains why Hans is a quadriplegic and how he and Elizabeth, who are originally from a wealthy family, came to live in Brighton and be in need of a volunteer for Hans’ caretaking. This is a satisfying family and expat story in which you will also learn a lot about the African Portuguese colonies
Weisman is an economic policy reporter for the NYTimes.