PASSING THROUGH HAVANA by Felicia Rosshandler


Email this review


In this feverishly probing autobiographical novel, WW II Havana becomes another passage for young refugee Claudia Rossin--yet another passage, where ""things keep being taken away from me without being replaced."" Claudia has fled from occupied Belgium with her wealthy parents and brothers. Her mother, beautiful Suze, who grew up in a Moravian town yearning for Vienna, has made the escape deals--flirting, charming, and. . . ?--with Germans and a Salvadorian. Her father Max, a self-made small industrialist, clings to the importance of money, awed by the ""assimilationist aplomb"" of Suze's circle. So now, with Suze impatient to conquer America, Cuba is just something to be lived through. But for Claudia, freed from a sour governess and English-royal-family frocks, it's a paradise of warmth and color and unclouded skies. At her private, church-sponsored school she longs to be a part of the Cuban circle of sweetly talcumed, black-haired Carmens and Margaritas--although her Nordic-blonde hair has always been Suze's delight. Not to wear the school's religious insignia is a bar to belonging. She ""hates"" being Jewish. (""What did Jewishness mean? I couldn't touch it. I couldn't feel it."") So Suze allows her to wear the school badge, and Claudia easily belongs--keeping her secret: ""that we had fled, diamond-lined suitcases in hand, because we were Jews decreed for extermination. . . ."" Furthermore, Claudia and expatriate German boy Dieter fall in love: a mutual infatuation, with Dieter unhealthily obsessed with a sick Germanic romanticism, Claudia engulfed by the illusions of finally belonging. But then, during carnival time, Dieter's grotesque, Nazi-fled alter ego leads Claudia to an obscene rite, first-sex, and bitter awakening. And, a decade later, Claudia--now an American--will say to her Cuban friends, now refugees of a more rooted sort in Miami: ""To be a Jew in the Caribbean is a sorry business. . . . You have to lose [things] a hundred times. . . and relatives whose names you refuse to remember."" Over-febrile and overstated, but ardent, bitter testimony on the nature of rootlessness--of place, religion, and family closeness.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's