THE DANCING BEAR by Chaim Bermant


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Throughout Bermant's many novels--from warmly intimate tales of middle-class English/Jewish families to more somber searchings of moral dilemmas--he has been strenuously concerned with the social and psychological crux of Jewish identity. Here, a successful British banker attempts to penetrate the mystery of his WW Il-orphan origins: German or Jewish? The man later known as Harry Newman is born in Latvia, of a German family; he lives with his grandfather in Egypt, speaks Russian like a native, attends Oxford. And he eventually enters the employ of a merchant bank in London--while his grandfather, who long ago insisted that Harry change his name from ""Heinz Rhiner"" to ""Harry Newman,"" is ill and dying in Egypt, as uncommunicative as ever concerning Harry's parents. Was Harry's mother really Grandfather's only daughter, so mysteriously disappeared and rumored to have died in a fire? What about those ""friends"" of Grandfather, the Marcovitch family? Could lively, feisty Aunt Carla, whom he loved, really be his aunt? Then, after a series of sexual adventures and a marriage fortuitously avoided, Harry meets TV film-producer Sue Cohen--who has unearthed the sensational, tentatively-proven theory that Grandfather was a notorious Nazi! So, through old films, photographs, Carla's odd testimony, and document searches, Harry and Sue (who marry) attempt to trace the wavering journeys of doomed Rhiners and Marcovitches; there'll be startling visitations and interviews in Poland, Russia, New York, and Israel--fueled by media accusations against now-deceased Grandfather. And though the marriage prospers through the birth of two children and Sue's increasing religious orthodoxy (about which Harry is ambivalent), it's not until the close--with the appearance of the widow of a dashing mystery-man in the Rhiner/Marcovitch tangle--that Harry at last confronts the deeper core of his ""reluctance to look back."" Bermant fans may miss his customary lingering over characters; the account of Harry's career/sex adventures seems too slapdash. But the roots-sleuthing, encompassing as it does age-old tragedies and vanished lives, has its own inherent fascination.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's