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A MEMORY OF WAR by Frederick Busch Kirkus Star


by Frederick Busch

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-393-04978-7
Publisher: Norton

A legacy of suffering, betrayal, and guilt inexorably pursues, and shapes, the protagonist of Busch’s powerfully developed 19th novel (The Night Inspector, 1999, etc.).

In a seamless fusion of scene, dialogue, and reminiscence, Busch draws us into the turbulent psyche of Manhattan psychologist Alexander Lescziak, the only child of Polish refugees who had escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to England, then America. Alex’s wife Liz is in love with another man (his colleague, as it happens). His own affair with a possibly suicidal patient, Nella Grensen, has been abruptly terminated when Nella simply disappears. And his new patient—reserved, saturnine William Kessler—claims he is Lescziak’s half-brother: the child of Alex’s late mother Sylvia and a German POW she had met in England. The intensity with which these and other relationships are explored is heightened by Busch’s deft employment of interior monologue, notably in sequences where Alex remembers his own past, and also imagines in heartrending detail his mother’s adultery and enduring grief. Busch is also a virtuoso maker of revelatory extended metaphors (e.g., “ [Alex’s] mind falling away from him like liquid carried by a small child in a heavy pot . . .”). But the heart of the story is contained in Lescziak’s long, wrenching conversations (in which he assumes the roles of mentor, seeker, and victim): with the appalling Kessler (a self-styled “historian” who denies that the Holocaust occurred), his dying father Januscz (his patient), a violence-prone transit policeman and Vietnam veteran, the woman detective who investigates Nella’s disappearance, the wife he’s losing and the friend (Teddy Levenson) to whom he’s losing her—each a firmly defined, unforgettable character. We come to know Alexander Lescziak as fully as we know any character in contemporary fiction, thanks to the wizardry of one of the great living masters of fictional technique.

Busch at his best: nobody does it better.