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 Does history murder innocence? In this exquisite collection of 34 stories and reminiscences, the Austrian poet (192188) hazards many guesses but offers no simple answers. Clear identities are difficult to glean from Fried's untidy parade of dead family members, legendary heroes, midcentury villains, and shifting versions of himself: Children often seem vastly more heroic than their feckless elders, and fools sometimes possess secret wisdom. In ``St. George and His Dragon,'' we learn that George and the dreaded serpent loved each other like brothers; the mythical slaying was more like an attempt to release the dragon from his heartbreak. Other stories confront the specter of the Holocaust from odd angles and scourge human brutality with feinting lashes. ``Deliverance'' finds a New York clerk and former Hitler Youth consigning his old governess to death in the concentration camps by replacing her immigration file with an old newspaper; the protagonist of ``Hounded to Death'' celebrates a lively existence spent in terrified flight from his pursuers. Fried lays on the irony pretty thick in an allegorizing, postwar style that American readers more accustomed to the likes of Updike and Cheever may not always get, but it's justified by the agony of his experiences. From his own grim scavenger hunt through Auschwitz and the meadows of Birkenau (``My Doll in Auschwitz'') to the account of his family's drawing-room furniture, maintained by his grandmother until the Nazis dragged her away (``The Green Suite''), Fried's alienation from any semblance of a normal childhood (he escaped Vienna for London in 1938) pervades his writing. The concluding essays chronicle his early adolescence, first as he struggles to evade the Nazis (``My Heroic Age'') and later while he adjusts to a life in exile (``The Unworthy Families''; ``The Commission''; ``LÑzchen''). It would be tough to locate a finer example of wit and intelligence triumphing over barbarism and horror.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-85242-211-4
Page count: 164pp
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994