CELLA: Or, The Survivors by Franz Werfel

CELLA: Or, The Survivors

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Austrian novelist Werfel (The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, The Song of Bernadette) began this novel of the Anschluss in 1938-39, a few months after the events it chronicles, and left it only half-completed on his death in 1945, to be published for the first time now, Hans Bodenheim, a moderately successful lawyer whose wife Gretl is loving but slightly anti-Semitic, recognizes and accepts his mediocrity, pinning his hopes for greatness on his daughter Cecily, or Cella, an extravagantly gifted piano prodigy. Cella's long-awaited debut, then, arranged by Bodenheim's long-departed friend Zsoltan Nagy, becomes the focal point of his life--blinding him to the German threat, which he believes he can ward off by collecting signatures supporting the return of the monarchy and agitating to mobilize a token force of war veterans. When Hitler suddenly comes to power in Austria, Bodenheim's efforts merely guanrantee his persecution, and he is soon picked up, jailed--the details of this decent bourgeois' reaction to his imprisonment make the most harrowing and humanly moving pages of the book--and shipped off to Dachau, only to be saved at the last minute by an improbable intervention and sent off to Switzerland and the exile of the unwritten second volume. An all-too-familiar story made distinctive by the immediacy of Werfel's testimony--as well as by his emphasis on his hero's inabilty to see beneath the most immediate details of his life, from his daughter's recital to his prison routine.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1989
Publisher: Henry Holt