The legacy of world war and the experience of exile provide a rich texture of loss and longing in nine stories from a prominent Argentinean-born filmmaker and author.
Cozarinsky’s second collection (after Urban Voodoo, 1990) is bracketed by two masterpieces, beginning with the unusual title story, about a young Jew, in 1890, preparing to embark for Buenos Aires to await his reluctant bride-to-be’s later arrival—only to be accompanied instead by the non-Jewish woman who impulsively begs to become his “wife.” In the haunting final story, “Émigré Hotel,” a Jewish protagonist travels from Argentina to Lisbon, obsessed by the story of his grandparents having fallen in love there in 1940—only to learn more than he wishes to know about his family’s angry, tangled history. The plot similarity that links these two pieces comes as a dazzling, moving surprise as deracinated characters also figure in the poignant “Christmas ’54,” about a Viennese writer in South America who relieves his loneliness by hiring “aimless, hungry-looking young men” for sex; and also in the portrayal of a Berlin pianist who can’t live either in his native or his adopted culture (“Days of 1937”); and in “Budapest,” about an itinerant art forger whose memories of his mother’s Romanian youth and adulthood dissuade him from fleecing an elderly “victim” of the Nazis’ appropriation of Europe’s artistic treasures. And yet even stronger is the masterly “Literature,” whose narrator pays belated homage to the Russian émigré woman who’d introduced him to her country’s great writers while grieving for her brother, perished at Dachau. This deceptively simple Chekhovian story resonates thunderously, most notably in one of contemporary fiction’s indelibly memorable images: “. . . although there were no trees in the camp, the ground was strewn with yellow leaves.” The “leaves” are, of course, the cloth stars worn by Jewish prisoners.
A diminutive book that speaks volumes about “the ghostly existence of émigrés,” one that haunts the reader’s imagination.