Lost Luggage by Spanish author Jordi Punti is the remarkable story of four half-brothers who have only known that each other existed for a year. The curious thing about them is that they are each named Christopher in various languages. There’s the oldest, Christof, an actor/ventriloquist whose mother Sigrun is German; Christophe, a lecturer in quantum physics at the University of Paris whose mother Mireille is French; Christopher, who buys & sells second-hand records in Camden Town (London) whose mother Sarah is English; and Cristòfal, the youngest, a translator of novels who lives in Barcelona and whose mother Rita is Spanish. When the Christophers’ mothers find out about each other 30 years after they last saw the father of their sons, they have no desire to meet, and so we don’t hear from them.
These are the sons of the missing Gabriel Delacruz Expósito, an enigmatic man with not one, but four secret lives, who drove a truck for a Barcelona based company called La Iberica that moved furniture all over Europe. Somehow, the charming Gabriel was able to form brief relationships with four different women, all of whom were content with the brevity of his appearances in their lives.
The Christophers each received letters, photos and postcards from their father over the years and even shared the same memory of him when he’d leave early in the morning in his lorry after an all too brief visit. They use these mementos to try to piece together a portrait of Gabriel’s life because Gabriel has disappeared more than a year ago and even though his sons haven’t seen him in more than 30 years, they embark on a journey to find him. Barcelona police contact Cristòfal after finding his name on a piece of paper on Gabriel’s bedside table in his abandoned flat, as his landlord and bill collectors want to be paid and that’s how the Christophers end up coming together.
Gabriel grew up in The House of Charity, an orphanage in Barcelona, with his best friend Bundó and they lived together as roommates in a boarding house for years after they left the orphanage at the age of 17. They befriended Petroli, who was 20 years older, through their work with the moving company and soon the three of them were helping themselves to one box that mysteriously disappeared, in every move they made and divided up the contents among them.
The four Christophers track down Petroli and his partner Angeles in Northern Germany where Petroli, who is now 80, has retired. They glean as much information about their father’s life from him as they can. Because of their transient life on the road, Gabriel, Bundó & Petroli often stayed in brothels and motels. Gabriel’s lifestyle offered two choices for past times between jobs: sex or playing cards. Petroli liked to frequent emigrants’ centres during their down time on the road, which is where he met Angeles and where Gabriel met Sigrun in a Rüsselsheim social club.
Christophe meets with Bundó’s former lover, ex-prostitute Carolina (also known as Muriel), who never allowed herself to accept his proposal to move in with him in Barcelona and years later moved to Paris and said yes to someone else. By finding all the hidden pieces to the puzzle that was their father’s unconventional life, the four half-brothers discover themselves.
Punti’s lush, descriptive prose takes us on a front seat ride through the lives of his characters. Beginning with Chapter 8, he allows each of the Christophers to share their life story, and Christof takes the lead. He works part time as a ventriloquist and insists that his dummy Cristoffini be declared The Fifth Brother. The way Punti incorporates Cristoffini into Christof’s storytelling, where he becomes the incarnation of Christof’s conscience, is nothing short of brilliant.
If there’s one thing we’ve confirmed since we began following the trail left by our father, it’s that our lives (everybody’s lives) are capriciously entwined and knotted together, sometimes playfully and, more often than not, in an impossible twist. Try to follow a strand from the end, undo all the knots to observe each thread separately and you’ll soon find out that it’s totally useless. At the moment of birth we’re already tangled like wool. In the end, the paradox is that a life as solitary as Gabriel’s could have been braided with so many different people.
In Chapter 9, Christopher takes his turn at narrating the story of his mother Sarah’s life. She was a nurse who was working on a ferry that crossed from Calais to Dover. During a move to Great Britain, Gabriel, when he wasn’t cheating at a card game with Bundó, a Frenchman and his groomsmen (they were transporting a racehorse on the ferry), he found time to have a sexual rendezvous with Sarah in the infirmary. In the meantime Punti tells a fantastical tale of three teenagers on an LSD trip on the ferry who decide to free the horse from its box. The result is quite a trip!
By the time it’s Cristòfal’s turn to tell his story in Part 2 of the book, I found myself beginning to lose patience with Punti’s wordiness. In particular, Cristòfal’s chapter At The Airport is tedious and the story of his grandfather’s wig business goes on longer than necessary. In fact, Cristòfal’s story goes on and on for chapters, for more than half of Part 2 of the book and this is when I started to get bored and just wanted Punti to wrap it up already. The book, although wonderfully written, could have easily been 150 pages shorter without losing the significance of events in the story.
Lost Luggage is not only one of the literal themes in this book, but also a metaphor for the lost, incomplete souls of its main characters. There is a pervading atmosphere of sadness and loneliness that permeates its pages and leaves you feeling melancholy so I can’t say that I’d ever want to read it again. However, I will say that Punti pulls off a conjuring trick with the ending which is perfect! But you’ll have to read it yourself to find out how it all turns out.