HOUSE OF EXILE by Evelyn Juers

HOUSE OF EXILE

The Lives and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann

KIRKUS REVIEW

An impressionistic collective biography of literary Europe in the 1930s and ’40s, focusing on the circle that gathered around brothers Heinrich and Thomas Mann.

HEAT magazine co-publisher Juers takes suicide and exile as her organizing themes. The narrative begins in southern California in the summer of 1944, where the Mann families had fled to escape Nazi persecution. Nelly Kroeger, Heinrich's longtime partner, had just killed herself with a drug overdose. Juers’ narrative voice shifts lightly between conventional biography and interior monologue as Heinrich recollects his artistic German childhood and, especially, his flamboyant younger sister Carla, a dramatic actress who used cyanide to stage her own theatrical exit from a failed love affair in 1910. Heinrich took up with a series of actresses before beginning, in 1929, his liaison with Nelly, a young woman profoundly scarred by the death of her illegitimate child in Berlin. That autumn, Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Woolfs, Sackville-Wests and Bells—key figures of England's Bloomsbury Circle—arrived in Germany. Nelly, always at the margins of the Manns' literary world, wrote a brilliant autobiographical novel, which Heinrich burned before explaining to her that he intended to rewrite it himself. With Hitler's rise to power, the Mann families abandoned Germany for exile, first in southern France and later in Los Angeles. As a portrait of one of the most compelling eras in European cultural and literary history, the book is richly textured, but the self-reflective and occasionally sentimental narrative voice makes the somber subject matter occasionally maudlin. Readers in search of anything inspiring or redeeming in what was, in the grand scope of things, the Manns' rather privileged escape from Nazism will be disappointed. As a fresh piece of the historical record, however, the book is a welcome contribution to World War II studies.

An intimate account of how Europe's literary elite survived the era of fascism in exile.

Pub Date: May 17th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17316-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2011




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