Ben's life mirrors Jakob's in some respects.
Death is the predominant theme of the novel. At the very onset, the reader is informed of Jakob's untimely demise in a car-accident. The events unfolded in the subsequent pages are therefore viewed through the eyes of a dead man. Thus the spectre of death looms large over the narrative. Jakob was the aural witness to the savage murder of his parents and the abduction of his beloved sister Bella. From that moment on he is haunted by the constant presence of his sister in his life. He is tormented by his abject ignorance of her fate. He reiterates his belief that the dead wield a permanent influence over the living, "It's no metaphor to feel the influence of the dead in the world."(Michaels, 53)
Death makes its presence felt in Ben's narrative as well. He is a child of the second generation but nevertheless he is a victim of the holocaust. His parents are living reminders of the horrors of the past and their very home is permeated with the remnants of the evil of those dark times. His situation is outlined in Jakob's description of the mass graves in the first part, "When the prisoners were forced to dig up the mass graves, the dead entered them through their pores and were carried through their bloodstreams to their brains and heart. And through their blood into another generation."(52)
The role of history and memory in the lives of the protagonists constitutes another theme of the novel and is reiterated in the second part echoing its occurrence in the first part. Jakob and Ben are trapped in their traumatic pasts and there is no hope for fulfilment in their present lives and possibly the future as well. Jakob is repelled by history and its clinical detachment in the face of atrocity and immorality and prefers to seek recourse in the intimate confines of memory. "History is amoral: events occurred. But memory is moral."(138) Ben does not feel kindly toward history either because for him it is an unhappy place, overrun with the fetid undergrowth of grief. As it turns out he finds solace in the pages of Jakob's memory.
Jakob and Ben are comforted by the presence of a father-figure in their lives. Jakob is rescued by the scientist and humanitarian, Athos. He is the anchor in Jakob's life and serves to bolster his spirit in troubled and painful times. In the second part Ben travels to Greece and experiences a rejuvenation of the soul in Jakob and Michaela's home. Thus in a very spiritual sense he becomes the surrogate son of the childless couple. He feels a bond with the dead couple in the house where "Every room emanated absence yet was drenched with your presence" (265) and which had had held out the promise of happiness to them and now to him as well
The second part brings out the healing power of language which was initially put forward by Jakob.. Jakob fights the demons of his past with his poetry and translation work which offer a healthy measure of comfort. He finds out as Athos had hoped he would that in poetry lies "the power of language to restore :"( 79). If Jakob found the opiate for his beleaguered spirit in writing then Ben found his in reading the formers work and in the reassuring and familiar realms of academia.
Even in the midst of all the elements of hate and destruction unleashed by the holocaust on which the novel expounds at