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In her ninth novel, Indian writer Desai (Clear Light of Day, In Custody), whose mother was German and father Indian, explores the troubled life of a German Jew who flees the Holocaust by going to India. The book superimposes a plethora of detail about Germany before the Holocaust and German detention in India onto a crisis in the present. Hugo Baumgartner lives in squalor behind Bombay's Taj Hotel with his cats and his memories. Then an encounter with fair-haired Kurt, a young German hippie desperate for drug money, unleashes his past: an affluent childhood in Berlin until Hitler came into power, when his father, after temporary detention in Dachau, committed suicide, his boycotted furniture business nearly in ruins. Hugo's trusting mother (at the time of her husband's suicide) decides to stay in Germany (and later disappears), but Hugo goes to Calcutta and gets involved in the timber business until WW II, when he's placed in a detention camp for its duration. Even in the camp, where Jews are separated from Nazis, Hugo is an outsider, and afterwards civil war between Muslims and Hindus forces him to flee to Bombay, where Chimanlal, a successful businessman, becomes his patron--the two even buy a racehorse together. When Chimanlal dies, however, his jealous son dismisses Hugo, whose only solace as he ages, always an outsider, is Lotte, a German woman he's known since his Calcutta days. When the German hippie kills him for a few tarnished silver trophies, Lotte is his only mourner. Brings to vivid light, with pathos, a different kind of suffering and exile forced upon the wandering Jew.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57229-7
Publisher: Knopf
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