Shaun Usher had left university, not quite sure what to do with his life, and was working in a bar in Manchester —”when it wasn’t my shift, he spent his pay on the other side of the counter”—when “a girl with a Scottish accent and Spanish roots”, Karina Blanco, wanted to show him how to “make the cocktails”. They had only been going out together for two weeks when she had to move to Spain for a course in Salamanca. They didn’t want to lose contact and began to correspond to keep getting to know each other. “During these 10 months that we lived hundreds of kilometers away, I didn’t just fall in love with who would become my wife [acabam de completar nove anos casados], as by written letters”. In 2009, Usher created a blog, Letters of Note, to share some of the most beautiful, sensitive, romantic and fun letters in history. Passion turned into industry: his website had 126 million hits, and the 15 books he published in the collection Memorable Letters have been translated into twenty languages.
When others would have thrown in the towel—it was only two weeks after all—they decided to continue; and while the rest of the world opened WhatsApp accounts and sent dozens of daily emails via cell phone, Usher discovered the fascinating, universal, and seemingly undying power of a paper and a stamp. “Just holding a pen in front of a blank sheet activates a part of your brain that you don’t use when you send an email almost without realizing it. Regardless of time and language, writing a true love letter is taking a risk. You’re not only opening up, making yourself vulnerable, you’re doing it in writing, in a document that might someday appear in a book read by thousands of strangers.”
Love gathers 31 letters written by couples and lovers; by famous and anonymous characters; separated by wars, prison sentences, concentration camps, disease and simple travel.
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Nobel laureate in Literature, John Steinbeck, responds to a letter from his 14-year-old son Thom, who asks him for advice about a recent event in his life, something common that has just happened for the first time. “First, congratulations. Falling in love is the best thing that can happen to a person, don’t let anyone overlook it and make it seem frivolous. Sometimes your feelings are unrequited for whatever reason; this does not mean that they are less valuable and noble. And don’t worry if things get messy. If it has to be, it will be. The most important thing is not to rush: good things are not lost out of nowhere”.
Nelson Mandela writes to his wife, Winnie, from the 2.4-by-2.1-meter cell in which he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, after learning that she, also an anti-apartheid activist, had been sentenced to 17 months in prison. . It’s June 23, 1969, and what would be South Africa’s first black president sends these lines of encouragement: “Conquest of a new world will not come at the hands of those who remain distant and idly, but those who their clothes are torn by the storm. (…) Since the dawn of history, humanity has honored and respected courageous and honest people, men and women like you, my love. My loyalty to you prevents me from saying more than I have already said in this letter that will pass through many hands. Someday we will have an intimacy that will allow us to share the thoughts that we have kept in the depths of our hearts over these eight years.” They’d only been married five when he was arrested. Their marriage lasted nearly four decades.
In March 1796, 48 hours after marrying Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte “had to separate from his wife to command the French army,” recalls Usher. “He was a hardened graphomaniac and managed to write countless love letters to his wife, even from the front.” But Josephine did not respond as quickly, and in July of that year Bonaparte rebuked her tenderly: “I sent for the messenger. He said he stopped by your house and you told him you had no message for me. Shame I should give you, dear mischievous, indolent, cruel and tyrannical little monster. You mock my weakness for you. Tell me you are happy, in good health and full of affection for me”.
Usher’s favorite letter is from another Nobel laureate, in this case from Physics. Richard Feynman, one of the parents of the atomic bomb, wrote in 1946 to his wife, Arline Greenbaum, who died 16 months earlier: “Now you can’t give me anything, and yet I love you so much that it keeps me from loving anyone else. Still, I want you to stay where you are: even dead, you’re much better than anyone else alive.” Feynman survived his wife 43 years. Their daughter, Michelle, found the letter among her belongings: “It was very worn out, much more so than the others, as if my father read it often.” Usher saw “thousands” of cards, but none affected him as much as this one. “Love never dies,” he says.
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