AS THE WALTZ WAS ENDING by Emma Macalik Butterworth


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In 1935 Vienna, eight-year-old Emmy Macalik, who loved to twirl in the courtyard when the organ grinder played, was encouraged by an elderly neighbor, once an opera star, to apply to the Staatsoper ballet school; in 1945 Vienna, we learn from an epilogue, teenage Emmy met and married an American paratrooper. (She now lives with her family of writers in Alabama.) Her account of the intervening years draws its interest almost equally, even impartially, from the vividly rendered ballet-school detail, much of it universal (the first disastrous pliÉ, the first bloody, heady day ""on pointe""); from the vaguely perceived advent and ascendancy of the Nazis (Emmy's father is staunchly anti-Nazi--but he must ultimately go into the army; she herself is drawn to, then repelled by, the Nazi girls' organization); and from the quietly reported horrors of wartime hunger, bombing, and (when the Russian forces arrive) gang-rape. Individual scenes are (advantageously) fictionalized; but there is little dramatic shape--or indeed thrust--to the chronicle. And there is only a very tentative sense of Emmy's apparently-strong personality. But such emotional crises as do occur--the family's Depression descent from affluence to shameful, concierge penury; a brief, painful break with best-friend Marcella (over that Nazi youth group)--are altogether, perhaps all-the-more convincing. A little glitter, a lot of endurance and decency.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1982
Publisher: Four Winds