I recently met a kindred spirit in an unlikely place. We got to talking and I discovered that aside from an interesting career as an actress and producer (for the CBC, Canada’s answer to the BBC), she was a fellow author and the title of her book ‘Nine Letters to a Dead Man’. I suggested we meet for tea (how could I not?) and subsequently purchased a hardcover copy.
‘Nine Letters’ is necessarily a slim volume and while the intent is to review it, this piece turned out to be more than that. It is also an homage to printed books.
The author pours her heart out to the husband who was her soulmate, her everything. “Dear Peter,” she opens, “I don’t know what to do. Do without you. I feel dead. I cry like my skin is on fire. A shower feels like knife blades. My skin aches for you. I can’t be touched. I need to be touched. I want to be touched. By you. Where are you?”
There are fifty eight beautiful, evocative pages of this intimate pouring out, chronicling four years of pain and love, many moments of delicious, bittersweet memories. In one wonderful passage Sulaika relates the first time she is aware she is coming back to life again. “How about that,” she marvels.
Her final goodbye to Peter is potent and circles the story back to the first hello in a mysterious, moving way. The last two letters unfold a hopeful measure of healing and renewal.
Sulaika and Peter had nine years together; he twenty four years older than she, but it wasn’t old age that took him – he was only sixty three when he died. Five years into their relationship, on Valentine’s day, Peter was diagnosed with leukemia. They planned their marriage that night anyway, eyes open to the struggles the future might hold. He lived four more years.
Peter Paul Ochs was a successful sculptor and artist. The book is interspersed with images of his powerful pieces. Indeed the cover artwork was his last piece, ‘unfinished and yet very finished’ as the author states, painted while under the agency of morphine.
The book is a work of art in itself. Tactile and rare. Wrapped around hardcover and printed on quality satin-finish paper, that cover simply begs to be caressed. The inside pages too, have a satiny finish, with a lovely ethereal border top and bottom of every page.
‘Tis a book to be treasured, to have place of pride on the coffee table. The kind of finespun book one imagines will be found in the cozy, wood-lined, vintage-scented bookstores of the future…