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The Empress of Weehawken: A Novel

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  334 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
At the end of what is (she cannot help observing) an extraordinary life, Elisabeth Rother has decided to write her memoirs. She brushes aside her narrow escape with her Jewish husband from the Nazis, and the perilous voyage to the New World of New Jersey. The subject that really consumes her is the waywardness of her impossible daughter, Renate, and her granddaughter, Iren ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 7th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2006)
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I spend a deal of time driving at the moment, especially at the weekends when my go-to radio station tends to get taken over by commentary and analysis of soccer games and anyway te tum te tum dee doodle dee is fine for quick ten minute trips but an hour each way, well, it begins to grate. So I decided to at last try to finish this audiobook which was one of our choices for a previous long car journey. We tend to suffer from a strange kind of lethargy when it comes to exchanging CDs: our device ...more
“La nonna vuota il sacco” è una specie di saga famigliare, vista soprattutto dal lato femminile. Si parte dagli anni Venti e dall’Alta Slesia per finire negli anni Novanta in America, dopo la fuga dei Rother dalla Germania nazista.

A raccontare è Elisabeth, la moglie di Carl, ebreo convertitosi al cattolicesimo, nonché la nonna citata nel titolo, ormai dipartita, che di certo non ha inclinazioni introspettive mentre ci narra fatti su fatti e accadimenti su accadimenti. Si ha un po’ l’impressione
Feb 02, 2013 Inga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Irene Dische lässt ihre Großmutter aus dem Grab heraus die Familiengeschichte ihrer eigenen Familie erzählen. Dabei werden jüdisch-katholische Religionskonflikte, Auswanderergeschichte, der Wandel der Geschlechterrollen im Verlauf der drei Generationen, Mutter-Tochter-Beziehungen und vieles mehr thematisiert. Erzählt wird abwechslungsreich, teils mit konservativen, egomanischem Blick auf das Geschehen, teils erfrischend selbstironisch.
Mar 22, 2009 Hester rated it did not like it
Shelves: it-stinks
This was a horrible story based on the life of the author's grandmother. What I thought would be a delightful fish out of water tale ended up being a truly disturbing story full of bigotry. No one in this story comes off as sympathic, best to not even bother with it.
Aug 18, 2015 Mareike rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mareike by: my father
Irene Dische schreibt die Biografie ihrer Großmutter:
Geburt der Tochter Renate, Leben in Oberschlesien mit einem jüdischen Mann, dessen Flucht über Paris nach New York und das darauffolgende, gemeinsame Leben in New York.
Der Erzähler soll hierbei die Großmutter, Fr. Dr. Rother, sein, ist dabei aber allwissend (die Informationen, die der Leser bekommt, gehen nach dem Tod der "Großmama" weiter.) Rother ist sehr gottesfürchtig und auch ziemlich rassistisch, was in mir keine Sympathien, vielmehr Abn
Janet Isenberg
Mar 20, 2014 Janet Isenberg rated it really liked it
Reading the other reviews and their negative comments, I would guess that most Americans can't identify with the immigrant viewpoint and the loss of one's identity upon coming to a new world. While my family was nothing like this fictional one, as the first generation American child of German and Austrian immigrants, the characters and their personalities rang true to me. While not usually laugh-out-loud funny, here is my favorite paragraph: "I slammed down the receiver. Those telephones were th ...more
Apr 11, 2010 Adriana rated it liked it
The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische recounts the life of Frau Dr. Elizabeth Rother grandmother and matriarch of a multigenerational clan in this historic novel. Told in a four-part flashback, she narrates her life starting in pre-World War II Germany and then moving to America and Weehawken, New Jersey. She shares her opinion about everything including master-servant relationships, plastic surgery, religion and proper table manners. She rules her family, from her medical examiner daughter, ...more
Oct 10, 2008 Laura rated it it was ok
The novel was advertised as being funny, but the humor passed me by. I found the main character such a negative person, exactly the kind of toxic personality every friend, therapist or magazine article you have ever read about relating would advise you to remove from your life. There is kind of a happy ending, but it was more pathetic than warm. I was left wondering why did I read this?

As I have found in other books, the best part of this one was the non-standard hisorical detail of living throu
Carol Hunter
Jan 22, 2008 Carol Hunter rated it liked it
A funny family saga written in the voice of the author's grandmother. The aristocratic "empress" escapes from the Nazis with her Jewish husband and they settle in New Jersey. I enjoyed reading of her frustration with her "impossible" daughter and granddaughter.
Oct 24, 2009 Mia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2009
Toward the end I lost patience with the unreliable narrator conceit, especially once she became an omnisciently unreliable narrator.
Allison Campbell
Sep 17, 2008 Allison Campbell rated it really liked it
The Empress of Weehawken is a faux memoir from the point-of-view of Elisabeth Rother, leading us through her amazing life and the lives of her daughter, Renate, and her granddaughter, Irene. Yes, Irene, as in Irene Dische, the author. But as Elisabeth would say, more on that later. At first glance, Elisabeth is an unrepentant snob, an anti-Semite who marries a Jew, a borderline abusive mother, and if I had put aside the book after fifty or so pages, I would have come away disliking Elisabeth des ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 10, 2008 Irene rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: definitely Jeanie
Shelves: 2008, lachrymose
I realize that I categorized this book in my "Russian, Jewish or Both" category. I believe it belongs there, even if though the story originates in Nazi Germany and centers on a Catholic family, the patriarch of which abandoned his Jewish-ness for his wife's aristocratic Catholicism. The Catholicism was one of the main characters. The Jewish aspect of the book was written as a necessary narrative for the escape from the Nazis. Otherwise, the Jewish-ness of any of the characters was written as so ...more
Rebekka Steg
This week I've been reading The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische. I read the book in Danish (where the title is 'Flugten til Amerika' which translates as 'The Flight to America') and I hadn't actually realized the book was originally written in English.

The Empress of Weehawken is a fictional autobiography as told by the author's maternal grandmother. The grandmother is completely candid and outspoken, who share her harsh criticisms and limitless love for all of the members of her colourful f
Jan 02, 2008 Ashley rated it really liked it
A friend of mine from Germany recommended Irene Dische to me. Although this wasn't one of the works she recommended (it was what I could get first at the library), I really enjoyed the novel and it made me pick up a few other works by Dische. The narrator really makes this novel. It's "told" by a deceased matriarch who is supposed to be the author's grandmother. This grandmother glosses over her family's escape from Germany during WWII and focuses upon what she sees as the mistakes of her family ...more
Meg Marie
Mar 30, 2010 Meg Marie rated it really liked it
This book is set up as a first person, fictionalized memoir of the author's grandmother. In taking her grandma's POV, Irene Dische has no mercy, flaunting the family flaws. Her grandmother was an upper class German Catholic woman, who never let the servants forget their place, and though she married a Jew who converted to Catholicism for her, never felt any sort of remorse about what happened to the Jews in Europe. She, her husband and her daughter were able to escape to America before WWII trul ...more
Gloria Finocchi
Avevo comprato questo romanzo in base ad una descrizione breve che non corrisponde affatto alla trama effettiva del libro. E' il racconto autobiografico (?) di una famiglia tedesca costretta ad emigrare negli Stati Uniti durante il nazismo, raccontata attraverso tre generazioni di donne, dalla voce della nonna. Mi sembra di aver capito che nelle intenzioni questo libro voleva essere divertente e magari ironico. A me è sembrato più un racconto dell'orrore pieno di antisemitismo, bigotteria cattol ...more
Jun 14, 2008 Laurie rated it really liked it
What an entertaining story about family relationships and living the "American" dream. I loved Irene Dische's writing style as she tells her autobiography through the eyes of her deceased grandmother, the fiery good Catholic german who escapes Nazi Germany with her Jewish husband. The story continues with the grandmother's daughter's exploits until finally Irene is born and we get to see her actions through her grandmother's eyes. I enjoyed the grandmother's musings that women are the stronger s ...more
Nov 24, 2012 Lauragais rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: documentary
This book is historically interesting. Irene Dische's family events before, during and following World War II - all of this is covered basically throughout the book in laconic one-liners.
The style of writing I find hard to bear - at times it seems to be a willful conglomeration of words, uncaringly thrown together. I read it anyway because, after all, it is an account of the time I lived/live in and it is always good to know how other see it, especially time witnesses. Although in this case, the
May 16, 2008 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hilarious, serious and sad in equal measures, this book tackles the darkest period in German history and tells the story of Irene and her ancestors from her grandmother's point of view. And "Granny" doesn't hold back when she gives her opinion on her daughter, granddaughter and the rest of the family. An outrageously larger than life character, which gives the story the sarcasm and dry wit it needs to make some of the stories bearable, leading you from Third Reich Germany to the fate of the fami ...more
Aug 27, 2013 Annemarie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Als ich mich erst mal an den ruppigen Erzählton der Großmutter gewöhnt hatte, hat sich das Buch leicht gelesen. Es war spannend, vor allem die Zeit im Deutschland des Nationalsozialismus.
Das die Großmutter immer mal vorweg griff erhöhte die Spannung und meine Neugierde nur. Mir hat vor allem die Selbstironie gefallen. Nur mit ihr lässt sich die Familie manchmal ertragen.
Am Ende bleibt bei mir die Frage offen: Wie viel ist erzählerische Fiktion und vieviel Realität. Es wäre auch sehr traurig, wen
Aug 01, 2009 Marvin rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
This novel is narrated by a domineering German Catholic woman who marries a Jewish doctor (who converts to Catholicism) just after WWI. All of his family die in the Holocaust, but they flee to Weehawken, NJ, just in time. The story, including her account (she lives until she's 95 despite being sure that nearly every year from the 1930s on will be her last) of the experiences of her daughter & grandaughter (named, cutely, "Irene Dische"), is told as just a series of short, humorous anecdotes ...more
Steffi Iron
Jul 31, 2011 Steffi Iron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aus der Perspektive von Großmama geschrieben, die eine schreckliche Zeit miterlebt hat: Holocaust, Verlust der Heimat, Verlust der Angehörigen und Freunde. Sie trotzt alldem, behält ihren eigentümlichen, bissigen Humor. Mit ihrem skurrilen BIick auf die Dinge beschreibt sie ihre Familie und Freunde. Herzlich-lustig berichtet sie über das Erwachsenwerden ihre Kinder, Enkelkinder und Schwiegersöhne, die es sicherlich nicht leicht haben, das alles mit Tiefe und Bedeutung. Besonders ihre Beurteilung ...more

The author Irene Dische is the grandchild of the narrator. After having read the book, I get the impression that she likes to talk about herself. She certainly has an interesting life, but this book is meant as the story of her grandmother. Therefore, the parts about her grandmother's youth and young adult life is the part I enjoyed the most. I would have liked to read more about Liesel and above all about Irene's brother Carl who almost isn't mentioned in the book although the scarce remarks ab
Jul 16, 2012 Teresa rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
"A fictionalized memoir of Elisabeth Rother, a proud Aryan and Catholic who nonetheless has been involved with Jews her whole life which involved her fleeing Nazi Germany. It follows the entirety of her young adult life to beyond her death-thus following the lives of her daughter, Renate and her granddaughter, Irene."
read more at:
Jun 14, 2011 Gypsyfaerie rated it really liked it
If you liked The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses, then you will enjoy this book. Also written by a grand-daughter in her grandmother's voice, this time it's a German lady who escapes Nazi Germany before it gets too bad and lands in Weehawken, NJ. The lady is a hoot and the relationships between her, her daughter and the author grand-daughter are universal and honestly and irreverently illustrate how hard that mother/daughter thing can be. I definitely recommend this for a summer read!
Jul 12, 2013 Penelope rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys fiction
I really enjoyed this book. Normally, I am drawn to books with fast moving or involved plots but not the case with this book. What I like most about it was the character development. The subtle nuance of the characters that at first blush you think you should hate but on closer inspection you love.

The book won't change your life but it was certainly adds color to your landscape.
Feb 20, 2011 Jan rated it really liked it
I thought this was an amusing story. Serious things happen but the writing style is quite humorous. It is a story about a German woman that marries a Jewish doctor in Germany, pre-WWII. They are able to escape to America and the story tells of her family, mainly her daughter and grand children. Very amusing.
Christiane Alsop
This is a courageous attempt at giving voice to an elderly woman. I miss reflexivity though, a narrative arc. Dische mixes omniscient narrator and first person voice (the hidden granddaughter's memoir comes across as ego-manic), a creative idea. However, I end up feeling lost somewhere between auto-/biography and novel.
In dem Buch geht es um eine Familiengeschichte, die sich über Jahrzehnte erstreckt und von der Großmutter erzählt wird. Laut Covertext eine "liebevoll-bösartige" Geschichte, die dazu führt, dass das Buch ein "funkelnder Juwel" ist. Ich habe mich durch 150 Seiten gequält und konnte nur eine emotionslos heruntergeschriebene Geschichte vorfinden, deren Charaktere eher fad als spannend sind. Schade!
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Irene Dische is an American writer, born and raised in the Washington Heights district of New York City.
She has studied Literature and Anthropology on the Harvard University. She was a freelance journalist (The New Yorker, The Nation). In the early 1980s, Dische moved to Berlin, Germany, and now she devides her time between Berlin and Rhinebeck, New York. A lot of her work is written in English, b
More about Irene Dische...

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“Young People! Do not gloat about your youth, because you have a long and treacherous path to negotiate before you reach the truly lovely part of your life. Your fisrt decades are one long, tiring, demeaning struggle for at least a short turn at the control level. Every day you get savaged by your own wishes. When you finally calm down and accept your lot, you are middle-aged, and happiness most definitely lies more closely ahead, but you still have a few years to go, passing through most arduous longing and regret.” 4 likes
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