The Continuation of Love by Other Means

The Continuation of Love by Other Means


When Carmen is only five, her father tells her he's moving to Africa. And although she is genuinely upset, in truth she hardly knows him. All she's known is a quicksilver figure who materializes for weekend visits, then vanishes for months on end. And even when he is present, Carmen must share him with unseen, anonymous girlfriends.By nine, Carmen is old enough to make yearly journeys to whatever exotic locale her father calls home. Each trip is emotionally charged—a kaleidoscope of new places, new people, new experiences. But at its vibrant, blinding centre is always one enigmatic figure: her father, Alfred. Proud, unapologetic, misogynistic, he is nonetheless a man of enormous charisma, power and mystery to his daughter.

For Alfred, his daughter's visits are full of promise yet destined to wound. Why does she always choose to side with his enemies? Why are all the women in his life, especially his daughter, so subversive? Life is a battlefield—this he accepts—but he has always hoped that with Carmen it might be different.

When Alfred moves to strife-ridden Argentina in 1976, Carmen, now in her twenties, is outraged by his alignment with the military and the powerbrokers. His breezy condoning of torture and murder is even more unfathomable when she contemplates the horrors of his childhood in wartime Ger- many. Yet even while she battles him, she enjoys the oasis he has found in Buenos Aires. She cannot resist the unabashedly sensual, hedonistic life he has created, the adventurous and unpredictable vitality of the world he calls his own.

As father and daughter separate, only to collide anew, they struggle to find connections and to piece together life's disparate threads of passion, love, sex and violence.


"As elegantly plain and satisfyingly functional as a Shaker hatbox... The novel is an organic rendering in fine detail of the intertwined lives of two people from conception onward. It's a skilfully told story with lots of life-juice and animal sensuality, perfect reading for the salty afternoons of midsummer."

- Sarah Sheard, The Globe and Mail

"A moving and mature piece of work...melding brutal realism and quiet hopefulness."

- Nicholas Dinka, Quill and Quire


Quill & Quire

July 2003
Review by Nicholas Dinka

There’s a thesis to be written, if it hasn’t been already, on the theme of fascism in recent Canadian fiction. Several Timothy Findley novels, most notably Famous Last Words, dealt powerfully with the subject. Michael Ondaatje, in The English Patient, gave us a controversially sympathetic portrait of Count Laszlo d’Almasy, a famous real-life Nazi. And Mavis Gallant’s stories have looked insistently at humanity’s fascist impulse, both as a political movement and as a subtext to human relationships in the private realm.

It’s Gallant’s work that comes immediately to mind as a precursor to Claudia Casper’s second novel, an honest and powerful new addition to reading lists on the topic of the fascist impulse. Like Gallant’s work, The Continuation of Love by Other Means forces us to explore the continuities between fascism, both literal and metaphorical, and everyday life in the postwar West. Casper’s narrative flips between the lives of the troubled Alfred, a globe-trotting German expatriate, and his comparatively well-adjusted Canadian daughter, Carmen.

Alfred is a boozing womanizer, a man ruined by his awful childhood in Hitler’s Germany. A misogynist who thinks all females are out to get him, he jumps from marriage to marriage, and from country to country, leaving a trail of broken relationships and half-forgotten children wherever he goes.

Carmen is the oldest of these carelessly sired offspring. Although Alfred left Canada when she was still a young child, he has made some effort to keep in contact. A few years later, at the age of nine, she begins a series of visits to her difficult and mysterious father in whatever exotic locale he is currently calling home.

In 1976 Alfred finally settles down in fascist Argentina and aligns himself with the country’s murderous military junta. Carmen, now in her twenties and firmly democratic in her values, is shocked and furious. How could Alfred, who witnessed the catastrophe of German fascism, buy into the same old deranged ideology?

It’s to Casper’s credit that Alfred never comes across as a flatly stereotypical “bad man,” despite that fact that he’s a rather nasty piece of work. Instead, she gives a nuanced portrait, showing us good as well as evil, inviting us at times to like and even sympathize with this wounded person, full of love and life despite his deep flaws.

Casper’s depiction of Alfred’s lifelong passion, cave exploration, is a deft move. The literary device—using a character’s hobby or vocation as a window into their interior psychology—is not new. But Alfred’s journeys to the world’s dark, subterranean places (in addition to being interesting in their own right) provide a revealing counterpoint to his refusal to delve into his own interior depths.

Some of the novel’s most disturbing moments occur during Carmen’s visits to her father in Buenos Aires. Aware of the horrible crimes being committed by her dad’s friends and allies, she nonetheless finds herself lulled by the exotic opulence of his lifestyle. As the reader is seduced along with Carmen by the surface normality of it all, we realize what a brave, subtle writer Casper is.

Casper’s clean, direct prose style sometimes feels dully clinical rather than richly deadpan. And at times the novel sags under the weight of long, peripheral scenes or rambling interior monologues that don’t offer enough insight into the story or characters. These issues aside, The Continuation of Love by Other Means is a moving and mature piece of work, successfully achieving a rare melding of brutal realism and quiet hopefulness. It’s also a timely reminder that fascism is not some distant reality with no bearing on our innocent Canadian lives, but is a subtler and more seductive force than we might think.

The Globe and Mail

August 16, 2003
Review by Sarah Sheard

Carmen is a feisty little girl of 5 when her father, a restless ladies’ man, walks out on his wife and child to pursue his mining-engineering business in South Africa. Carmen is devastated, despite the fact that Alfred’s been a virtual stranger since her birth. She won’t see him again until she’s 9, when he invites her to visit him and her stepmother in his new home.

Thus begin these accounts of her annual short visits, snapshots of a father-daughter power struggle, narrated by each of the in alternating chapters. Alfred’s work takes him far afield, and Carmen visits him in Paris, Portugal, Brazil and finally Argentina. Eerily alike, they are equally intolerant of each other’s rebellious natures and kick against traditional roles—for themselves, of course—although they each crave conformity from the other.

Carmen wants Alfred to be a traddy daddy. Alfred assures her that girls are wired up to be mothers, full stop. Carmen is a fastidious little bookworm, tucking escargots back into their shells rather than—eughhh!—eating them. She buries herself in a storybook despite Alfred’s entreaties to hang out with him instead, clinically observing her father’s sexual shenanigans with one young woman after another. Her questioning mind bounces from nature to nurture and back again in an effort to understand the meaning (and value to the universe) of the struggle between male and female.

Mixed messages abound. Small wonder that Carmen grows into a righteously angry, left-leaning teenager—a mess of typical teenaged contradictions, loving her dad’s free-and-easy lifestyle, the amazing shopping, the erotic frisson of Buenos Aires’ nightlife, and detesting the privilege that protects and is protected by the brutal regime responsible for the desaparecidos. Her own complacency flung aside, together with the day’s shopping, she confronts Alfred about his politics and, predictably, each of them digs down deep and defensive. Power struggles they’ve had in earlier days over food, a piercing and his…um, little ways…are a bun fight compared to this. Oh, why can’t a woman be more like a man? Alfred pines, while Carmen packs up her shopping and flies home.

Repeating his family’s pattern, Alfred disowns his daughter—she’s yet one more woman in his life who refuses to be sufficiently compliant. Only it rather looks like Carmen disowned him first.

A 17-year rift yawns between them. Carmen grows up, studies marine biology, marries and becomes a mother, all the while questioning the fundamentals: Is biology destiny? And for that matter, why can’t a man—particularly her father—be more like a woman? Alfred burns through marriage after marriage, procreating merrily but demonstrating no more aptitude for partnership and fatherhood than a polar bear or a hag worm.

True, he’d like to make and exception and be a dad for Carmen, and he works somewhat hard to persuade her that he cares, but he’s just too much of a narcissist to see her side of anything. His attraction to women looks more like addiction than actual love for anyone other than himself. He’s rendered impotent by any females over 30 and it appears he’s never gotten over his own abandonment by his mother when he was 12. Trust is clearly an issue. His women reinforce it by decamping with their children, one after another, fed up with his indiscriminate canoodling. Alfred once told little Carmen he’d rather be reincarnated as a frog than as a woman, and years later, Carmen reflects that this might be best all around.

Time ratchets onward.

Carmen is big with child again, and in a crisis with her husband, when the phone call from a Buenos Aires hospital comes. She flies to Alfred’s side—possibly for her last chance at reconciliation. Tough old Alfred responds to her ministrations, and reincarnation as an amphibian is postponed. The parallel tracks that both father and daughter ride have not yet reached the vanishing point, though. More painful rites of passage are to come for both of them. Alfred’s love-hate relationship with caves and Carmen’s impending labour result in epiphanies and untold agony for each. Resolution takes the form of truce with the inexorability of the life force.

Critics raved about Claudia Casper’s dazzling poetic intensity and the rich literary parallels and allusions in her first novel, The Reconstruction. Her second novel, however, is refreshingly prosaic and the story as elegantly plain and satisfyingly functional as a Shaker hatbox. She can smoothly convey the daily routine of a child’s growing up, capturing Carmen’s sensibility and passing it through the tempestuous needle of adolescence into a sensible and articulate adulthood. It’s a pleasure to follow each character’s story, unfolding as it does without judgment by its creator, so that by the conclusion, while readers might have longed for Alfred to get a little therapy and maybe Carmen, too, we see them muddle through hell toward each other. Handicapped as they are by such peculiar parental role models, it’s a marvel that they manage to connect as well as they do.

Quibbles? Carmen shopped rather a lot and Alfred drank a really big lot, and a Freudian would have a field day with caves and other parallel passages herein. But on balance, the novel is an organic rendering in fine, if occasionally banal, detail of the intertwined lives of two people from conception onward. It’s a skillfully told story with lots of life-juice and animal sensuality, perfect reading for the salty afternoons of midsummer.

The Sun Times

June 9, 2011
Review by Andrew Armitage

When Claudia Casper’s first novel, The Reconstruction, was published back in 1996, I thought I had died and gone to reading heaven. I babbled on happily about it in this column—and then sort of forgot how good it was until Casper’s second effort came along. While The Continuation of Love By Other Means (Penguin Canada, $32) is not as consciously poetic as her debut novel, it is every bit as satisfying and exotic.

Carmen is Alfred Lion’s first daughter. Born in Canada in the 50s to a German expatriate who survived the Second World War, she grows up to be a zoologist while her philandering father makes his way through one wife after another. Over the years, Carmen pays visits to Dad in foreign countries around the world. Finally, Alfred settles in Argentina during the time of the Dirty War.

After Alfred disowns (don’t ask why—you can find out for yourself) Carmen, a 17-year rift grows between them. Time passes, Carmen, pregnant and in a failing marriage, is called to a hospital in Buenos Aires where she nurses her estranged father. And finds resolution.

The Continuation of Love By Other Means (my choice for the best title of ’03) is a skillfully written story of intertwined lives filled with love and dislike. Much like Distance and Sitting Practice, it was enjoyed in the fading sun of late summer, this time sitting by the Rideau Canal sipping a beer and eating poutine. Before I put it away, I must remember to wash the gravy and cheese curds from its once pristine cover.

The Georgia Straight

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.