by Esther Freud ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 23, 1998
A shrewdly observant, emotionally astute postmodern version of a family saga. Here, Freud (Peerless Flats, 1993, etc.) focuses more on individual episodes than on continuity. Her parallel narratives trace, on the one hand, the collapse of the privileged lives of the wealthy Belgards in WW I-era Germany, and, on the other, the efforts of a descendant of the family to unravel its mysteries. The three Belgard sisters are, at first, more concerned with their long-simmering conflict with a distant mother than with the onset of war. Even the departure of their beloved brother Emmanuel to the army doesn't much affect the tenor of their comfortable existence at Gaglow, the family's vast country home. But little by little the war intrudes: The girls' father, an affluent grain merchant, watches his fortune dwindle; their brother disappears on the Eastern Front; and the once-sumptuous estate shows signs of disrepair and decay. Along the way, the author, great-granddaughter of Sigmund, shows an uncanny ability to get inside the turbulent minds of adolescent girls: Her depiction of Bina, Martha, and Eva's dreams, fears, and fascinations is lively and detailed.. In a subplot set in modern London, Sarah, a sometime actress in her 20s, pregnant with her first child, gradually becomes consumed by the need to make sense of her Æ’migrÆ’ family's obscure past. Her search is spurred by the news that Gaglow, having been held by the now-collapsed East German regime, will likely return to the family. Sarah and Eva's parallel straggles as young women (Eva must face the collapse of her comfortable life, and the loss of family members; Sarah must deal with a baby, a stalled career, and a feckless boyfriend) are rendered with feeling, but the two stories never converge convincingly. And Freud, while she renders emotions with accuracy, never seems much interested in motivations. Still, the portrait of a vanished way of life is forceful and moving. And Freud's elegantly uncluttered prose is a pleasure. A skilled, if somewhat uneven, performance.
Pub Date: April 23, 1998
Page Count: 256
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998
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