Alex Landragin’s Crossings weaves a remarkable tale across centuries, landscapes and human lives. A bookbinder receives a manuscript from a baroness with explicit direction to not read what it holds. When the baroness dies soon after, the bookbinder discovers that the manuscript contains three tales—a ghost story written by Charles Baudelaire for an illiterate girl, a dark love story of a Jewish German exile who is unable to leave Paris at the edge of the Nazi invasion, and the tale of a woman who lives through seven generations.
Each story is rich with characters, ideas and keenly imagined moments. The points of connection, however, are what make the text compelling and open to so much discovery. As the preface ends, readers learn that the book can be read in two modes: one narrative at a time, or through the “Baroness” guided sequence that hops between the three stories. In this method, the stories weave through time and space to create a fourth text, one in which nuances and subtext emerge through unexpected connections. As characters, objects and phrases appear and reappear, time blends, and the questions of what makes us who we are, how our choices impact our futures and how other people perceive us become central to the telling.
The prose is engaging, asking you to keep up as the story jumps from ending to beginning, tangling time and stretching the edge of what a narrative can do. There’s a tension between wanting to read quickly, to let yourself be absorbed in this fantastical and real world, or slowing down to allow each story to breathe. The beauty here is the multiplicity of the reading experiences, of the chance to do both, as each iteration of the novel asks different questions and demands a different mode of attention from the reader.