In this resolutely ambitious novel from Winer (The Color Midnight Made, 2002), a present-day art critic’s attempt to understand his dead wife and her brilliant Native-American artist-lover intertwines with the fate of an equally brilliant Jewish artist in 1930s Vienna.
Daniel’s wife Aleksandra, a photographer, has leapt to her death in New York City beside the painter Benjamin Wind, whom Daniel has glowingly reviewed. Daniel was particularly impressed by Benjamin’s most recent work: floating sculptural pairings of all sorts of couples, their eyes closed. Distraught with grief and guilt, Daniel tries to makes sense both of Aleksandra and Benjamin’s deaths and their affair. At Benjamin’s funeral he meets Max. The elderly Jewish man claims Benjamin was not a Blackfoot Indian but his grandson. Meanwhile, parallel chapters set in Vienna before World War II introduce a young boy named Josef who discovers his genius at creating ketubots, Jewish marriage contracts in which he captures the spirit of the betrothed. As the Nazis crack down, Josef’s friend Max arranges Josef’s marriage to Hannah, who has a visa to emigrate to Palestine. To Max’s jealous distress, Hannah and Josef fall in love and have a baby, Herman, before they can escape Vienna. Josef and Max end up in a concentration camp together. Enroute to her own imprisonment, Hannah drops Herman out a train window. Josef perishes, but after the war Max finds Herman for Hannah and they emigrate to America as a family. Sensing his parents’ deceit, Herman rebels against his heritage and adopts a Blackfoot identity he passes on to his son Benjamin. Now Max asks Daniel to take Hannah, who is hiding in a nunnery, the ketubot Josef made for her in the camp shortly before his death. Daniel realizes that it inspired Benjamin’s artistic masterpiece. Winer overrides the pitfalls of potential melodrama with a quiet sense of authority and an artist’s eye.
A tour de force of provocative ideas—about art, love, Jewish identity, survivor’s guilt, the fluidity of time and so much else—expressed through emotionally riveting characters.