An elegant, unpublished novel by the grandmother of Edmund de Waal, author of the best-seller The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), explores the heartbreak of returning to post–World War II Austria.
Herself an exile, Elisabeth de Waal, born into a dynastic Jewish family in 1899, lived a privileged childhood in Vienna, became a writer who moved around Europe and died in 1991. This novel reveals her intelligence and articulateness as it evokes 1950s Vienna, haunted by the ghosts of its distant and more recent pasts. Professor Adler, a Jewish scientist, has returned to the city 15 years after being expelled because of his race. Wealthy Theophil Kanakis has also returned after making his fortune in America. And there’s a third visitor: listless, 18-year-old Marie-Theres, who is related to a noble Viennese family although she was born and raised in the U.S. Adler seeks to reconnect, while Kanakis renovates his exquisite house, then fills it with interesting young people, including Prince Lorenzo "Bimbo" Grein, whose beauty is irresistible to both Kanakis and Marie-Theres. De Waal’s cast of characters, which includes an unrepentant Nazi, presents a tableau of life and class in a ruined, now reconfiguring great city—a place of happiness for some, destruction for others.
Restrained yet incisive, this finely observed novel lacks a resounding conclusion but nevertheless offers European mood music of a particular and beguiling resonance.