I was born in liberated Rome to a half-Jewish Viennese mother who had found a modicum of safety in Italy after the Nazi annexation of Austria. My Jewish grandfather fled to France, was arrested then rescued and hidden until the end of the war. Once the owner of a renowned clothing store in Vienna, he spent his last years selling secondhand clothes in Paris. My grandmother made it safely to New York shortly before the U.S. entered the war. My mother’s brother, a promising young pianist, escaped to the U.S. also, then served as a Ritchie Boy in France and Germany, only to die a week before he was due to return.
My early childhood was spent changing countries and languages until we too arrived in New York. There, from age seven, I lived in a Manhattan neighborhood of Holocaust survivors and fellow Europeans displaced by war. I absorbed their memories of betrayals and sacrifice, of courage and difficult decisions, of strangers’ kindnesses and sheer luck. I came to understand that their gratitude for having found safety in America was tinged with longing for the lives they’d once loved and had been forced to give up. I learned that the past is never quite past. These lingering shadows of all that had been lost are what inspired me to write ALL THAT LINGERS — yet, in writing the novel I found myself reflecting on what my family’s life might have been like had they not been able to leave Vienna.
““A standout among the many novels set in this world-changing era.” Kirkus Review, A STARRED Review”
– Kirkus Reviews
Wittig’s decades-spanning historical novel set mostly in Vienna takes us from the 1930s to the 1970s, detailing the fallout from WWII.
We start with three women—Emma Huber, Greta Bruckner, and Léonie Salzmann—who have been fast friends since grammar school. Emma’s fiance, Theo, is killed early on in an uprising in Austria, and Emma has a miscarriage and cannot bear more children. Greta marries Otto Bruckner and has a daughter, Sophie. Léonie is married to Josef, a doctor, and their daughter is the lively Valerie. By the late 1940s, only Emma is alive of the three women. For villains, we have Greta’s mother-in-law, the grasping Elsa; her sister-in-law, the vain, shallow Marion; and Marion’s husband, Friedrich, Graf von Harzburg. All of these characters are thrown into the cauldron of Hitler’s rise, the war itself, and the struggle to rebuild their world and come to terms with the evil at the root of it. Novelist Wittig has a gift for character development and for pacing. She takes her time, raising this story to the deserved level of saga. It is Emma who holds the book together, and there are many more characters than mentioned above. Friedrich is an especially fascinating piece of work. All he has in life is his aristocratic lineage (“Graf” is the equivalent of a count) and the concomitant style and manners. And the Bruckners have money, so it is the ultimate marriage of convenience. He does great damage, not so much because he is immoral but because he is amoral, morally lazy—as he would be the first to admit. The story plumbs deep sadness. At one point, Emma wonders, “Didn’t God ever have enough of death?” There are saving graces, too, including a young British army officer and a kind doctor.
A standout among the many novels set in this world-changing era.
Pub Date: March 20, 2020
Page count: 409pp
Review Posted Online: June 20, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020
ALL THAT LINGERS: an Indie Book of the Month
ALL THAT LINGERS: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2020
ALL THAT LINGERS: Kirkus Star
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