MOTHER'S GIRL by Elaine Feinstein


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Once more, Feinstein (The Border; The Shadow Master) digs into the underside of wartime secrets, refugee life, and Jewish identity--or lack of it. Here, the ostensible plot revolves around a pair of half-sisters, Halina and Lucy, who meet in London to attend the funeral of their father, Leo, a charming quixotic Hungarian refugee. Halina has always revered her father despite his faults--while Lucy remains embittered by his abandonment of her and her Hollywood starlet mother. Now, apparently, with Leo's death, both sides of the stow will come out, old secrets will be told, the air will be cleared at last. What ensues, however, is a strangely lopsided account of Halina's life--mostly having to do with her student days and her subsequent marriage to Janos, a brilliant, neurotic professor who's also a refugee and has old associations with Leo. The details from Halina's earlier years, when her parents shipped her off from wartime Hungary to live with an unknown Jewish family in England, are disappointingly wooden--they fail to move us. Less convincing still is the character of Lucy, the truculent American sister. Lucy confuses us--in no small part because of a chronological slip-up. In the beginning of the novel, we're told that she's ""more than twenty years younger than Halina,"" yet later, through Halina'a narrative, it becomes apparent that Lucy must have been born some years before Halina's 15th birthday or the whole sequence of the novel fails to stand up. And when Lucy finally has a chance to tell her side of the story, even the language of her bitter little speech is all wrong for a Californian. She says ""petrol"" for gas, refers to a tetanus ""jab"" instead of a shot, says she doesn't ""fancy"" a certain man. We can't buy it. Feinstein has a rich vein of material to tap here. It's a pity she didn't delve deeper.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton