A nimble, extraordinarily moving novel about a sister and adopted brother with a one-of-a-kind connection
Zachariah and Rachel Wolff are brother and sister. Well, not exactly. They are star-crossed lovers. Well, not exactly. Rachel is the cherished daughter born to a Russian family living in London, and Zachariah is her parents' adopted son, who arrived from the orphanage with one sweater, a head of rambunctious curls, and a dexterous set of fists, or fives, as he likes to call them. As children, they were as close as two people could be. But when they crossed this forbidden line, there was no going back. Now, as an adult, coping with Zach's estrangement from their formidable father, Rachel is determined to invent a family history for her beloved. And so the novel cartwheels through Zach's imagined ancestry--from a tavern-educated boxer in Dickensian times to a Hussar at the Battle of Borodino during the Napoleonic Wars. All the while, Zach and Rachel's troubles in the present are building to a new point of no return. Filled with art and science, fairy tales and folk songs, tsars and foundlings, epic battles in the prize ring and on the Eastern Front, Be My Wolff is a novel of astonishing range and imagination: a love story, an exuberant adventure through time and place, a tale of our most unbreakable bonds.
Richler's (Feed My Dear Dogs) ambitious third novel concerns artist Rachel Wolff and her lover, Zachariah who was raised as Rachel's adopted younger brother as they move into their new London home. Zach is estranged from their father Lev, who always doted on Rachel and was hard on Zach, particularly when he abandoned the family's scholarly and artistic pursuits to become a boxer. After a match that left him with a life-threatening condition, Zach was forced to give up fighting. He still works at a local gym, where he spars on occasion, much to Rachel's chagrin. Rachel is resurrecting a book she and Zach worked on as children that chronicles the history of a Zach stand-in named Sam. The text of this project makes up a good portion of the narrative, interweaving themes and recurring images. Richler's writing style is exuberant; the text is rife with so many exclamation points that it takes on the cheerful zest of a friendly work email. There's a lot going on in this book, but the best parts of the narrative lie in the quiet moments when Rachel and Zach confront their questionable brand of love and the tumultuous effect it has on their lives and loved ones. The novel ends on a sinister note deftly hinted at by the book's preoccupation with patterns.