Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family.Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family. Thanks to the charitable Quakers, known for their tradition of religious tolerance, the Mitwisser Family is brought to New York, to Albany, where the professor begins to lecture at the Quaker college. Mrs. Mitwisser is deeply depressed, however, sometimes verging on the delusional, having had to abandon her high-profile scientific pursuits. (She'd worked closely with Erwin Schrödinger). She has now withdrawn from the rest of the family and lies inert in a remote sitting room. Our narrator, eighteen-year-old Rose, answers an ad in an Albany newspaper and comes to work for the Mitwisser. Actually, the ad is hilariously vague as to just what Rose's duties are going to be, but she answers it anyway because she has to get out of her cousin Bertrand's apartment since he's fallen in love with loudmouthed Communist Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), and Rose has fallen for Bertrand who, though very kind, just thinks of her as a "kid," which she resents.
The Mitwisser household also includes sixteen-year-old Annaliese, three younger boys (Heinz, Willi and Gert) and a toddler daughter (Waltraut). Soon they move to the Bronx because the professor, torn from Europe's great libraries due to the imminent war, has to continue his scholarly study of a heretical group of tenth-century Jews, the Karaites, at the New York Public Library. Interlarded with the story of the Mitwissers and Rose and the Karaites is the story of The Bear Boy. As a child, during the decade of The Great War, this fellow became the model for his father's dazzlingly successful series of children's books. Now in mid-life he's a lost soul who hates his immense wealth and lives a semi-debauched, drifter's existence. That's pretty much the setup, so I'll leave you hanging there. Suffice it to say, the novel's language is rich without being daunting, its plot sprightly, and its structure awe inspiring. I really came to care for these vividly drawn characters, even the cynical Bear Boy, whose influence as patron of the Mitwisser household causes major friction between the professor and his wife. Cynthia Ozick is my new favorite writer. I plan to read everything she's written. Also exquisitely good are her The Messiah of Stockholm and The Puttermesser Papers, both of which I have reviewed....more
I have to give this another go. The first cycle didn't finish. Here's my original review: I was really enjoying this. The prose is a little dense, andI have to give this another go. The first cycle didn't finish. Here's my original review: I was really enjoying this. The prose is a little dense, and there's no question that the author has a penchant for abstraction, as seen in the musings of the musicologist; but there is also wry humor and elegant surrealism, deftly handled. The opening sequence of the elderly Mrs. Plauf going into hysterics on the train is hilarious. As we move from character (Mrs Eszter) to character (Valushka), the story deepens. We see, or feel we do, their every ratiocination. I don't want to give away the fun so I'll just say that in a trice the story turns from an almost lighthearted tale to one in which we have to wonder if we aren't heading for a meeting with our maker, or ultimate darkness, or enlightenment. Call it what you will. The setting is Budapest but you only know that through mention of various landmarks. The city itself is never named. Then at about page 200 we hit this turgid wall of philosophical musing, by the musicologist again, and it stops us dead; and try as we might, we cannot, even after successive tries, move beyond it. We long for the joys of narrative pleasure. What makes a writer think he or she can abandon the reader even for a moment? A friend here on GR has a shelf called "seduced and abandoned." Thus I file this one. Recommended with reservations....more
Of the five or six Simenons I've read, The Strangers In the House strikes me as the one generating the most narrative pleasure. A discussion of the plOf the five or six Simenons I've read, The Strangers In the House strikes me as the one generating the most narrative pleasure. A discussion of the plot-line would tell you little about the joys of this volume--it's all in the actual writing--so I'll limit myself to the following. At the core of the novel is a man, Loursat, a lawyer, who has lived a deadened life since his wife left him for another man eighteen years ago. Now, with the commission of a murder that takes place in his own home, he returns to life. He is awakened when he undertakes the defense of an innocent young man and is driven to stands of principle he had previously thought beyond his burgundy-numbed mind. I found the book an emotionally powerful marvel. The final trial scene is handled in a way that seems fresh and appealing even today, seventy-two years after publication (1940). Instead of hauling each witness through the dock, Simenon let's us know of all the preparation that has gone into the defense and, while the prosecutor is prattling on and everyone listens, Loursat mentally makes his argument, mostly by recalling bits of deposed testimony. I don't say this is a striking innovation on Simenon's part, but it is, again, so perfectly executed. The book's considerable pleasures lie in its compression, in the author's ability to emphasize only the most salient aspects of the story. No word, as they say, is wasted. One last note, I have never been so gripped by the simple description of a physical structure since Bleak House. Though Dickens had the luxury of length, Simenon does not. He merely possesses a model linguistic economy. Many thanks to New York Review Books for winnowing this one from the Andean heap....more
This is a second volume of what is now a three-volume sequence. The new Copper Canyon Press edition W.S. Merwin Selected Translations contains three vThis is a second volume of what is now a three-volume sequence. The new Copper Canyon Press edition W.S. Merwin Selected Translations contains three volumes: (1) Selected Translations 1948-1968--a much loved book that I return to frequently, (2) this second volume 1968-1978, and (3) a third volume of poetry translated since 1978. The most recent set of translations I've yet to read. This volume I recommend highly....more
In The Lime Twig, as in a dream, the reader is never sure of his or her footing. One moves ahead tentatively, trepidatiously. It's rather astonishingIn The Lime Twig, as in a dream, the reader is never sure of his or her footing. One moves ahead tentatively, trepidatiously. It's rather astonishing the intensity of suspense Hawkes is able to sustain. There's also this bit of ventriloquism he pulls off, since he's American but writing about an English racing caper and the vocabulary is very British. Why, an Anthony Powell on psychotropic drugs might have written it! Hawkes's talent for picking out the most vivid details when, say, describing a track crowd is stunning. He moves with dazzling facility from one puzzling scene to the next. You're never quite sure what anyone wants. Only slowly is this revealed, and then elliptically, discursively. There are those with criminal motives, thugs, meeting up here with relative innocents who thought they might penetrate this rough world to make a quick buck. How naïve. How tragic. Hawkes's Wikipedia page calls him a postmodernist. This comment must refer to other titles. For this narrative does not resort to self-referential metafictional devices. The erotic penultimate scene I found harrowing, exhausting. William Styron once said that a great novel always leaves us slightly exhausted in the end. The Lime Twig does the job in a mere 175 pages. A literary thriller of a very high order. I cannot praise it enough....more