BERLIN WILD by Elly Welt


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From the author of the medico-suspense first-novel Joanna Reddinghood (1980), a much more ambitious, darkly intense and appealing novel focused on a citadel community in which the best of civilization is condensed and heightened while, without, rages the worst of brutal unreason. Here, a doctor, newly arrived at an Iowa City hospital (the same featured in Welt's first novel), remembers his apprenticeship in the safe harbor of a scientific institute during WW II in Nazi Germany--the ""best years of his life."" Josef Bernardt, son of a German lawyer and Jewish doctor, banned from German schools, had been accepted--thanks to his father's web of influence--to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute--a remarkable closed community of brilliant scientists that included several of whom death probably waited on the outside. ""This was the house the scientists built,"" where government and industry officials, the Institute crew (multitalented, multilingual), and a Gestapo security guard (receiving cancer treatments) quietly enriched and protected each other. There is food in hard times (an odd but nourishing mix used for fruit-fly nurture), and there are seas of Institute-made vodka. Josef clings to the edgy camaraderie of his fellows and the heroic leadership of the Institute chiefs and survives his grief and rage--at a father who could have rescued his family; at the savage destiny of a gentle aunt and uncle; and, with others, at the shooting death of the Chief's son and Josef's friend. Fevered by the best and worst of the times, adolescent Josef explores sex, clowns with peers, later stumbles into a bad marriage, and, like the Berlin Wild fruit flies, has the vitality and stability to survive. Or does he? After the war and ""liberation,"" when there should be the hoped-for better life, ""There is no hope at all and no reason at all. That is when the true emptiness begins."" In 1962 Iowa, Josef will confront that emptiness. Although the Iowa sections are starchy with stiff speech and medical terminology, the Institute episodes are vibrant with warmth, humor and the vitality of those clinging to the brink through wit and will.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking