A woman recalls her love for an aging author and WWII survivor, in a luminously written if unaffecting debut novel.
Edelman effectively evokes the horrors of war but is less successful in establishing a connection between Joseph Kruger’s traumatic experiences then and his subsequent treatment of women. The story begins as Kitty Jacobs travels by train from Paris, where she now lives, to Amsterdam to attend her former lover’s funeral. In a series of flashbacks, she remembers the affair that changed her life. A would-be writer, Kitty was in her early 30s when she met Joseph in New York. He was then in his 70s, a famous writer and playwright celebrated for his bleak vision. “We live in madness,” he tells Kitty. “Be ready to hate. And most important, travel alone. Maybe then you’ll have a chance to survive.” As he woos her with food and conversation, then makes love to her, this remarkably virile septuagenarian tells Kitty his life tale. Though meant to be a profound indictment of anti-Semitism, it often seems more like the memoirs of a satyr, as Joseph frequently recalls his numerous sexual encounters. Vienna-born, he left in 1938, when his Jewish parents sent him to the presumed safety of Amsterdam. There, he lived with a Jewish family until the Germans invaded and took his hosts away. He survived by hiding in an attic and relying on the kindness of Marijke, a prostitute. After the war, he settled in Israel, married, and fathered a son, only to abandon his family later. He continued his wanderings and seductions, became a renowned playwright, acquired and abandoned another wife and son. Her journey over, Kitty recalls the last time she saw Joseph, suitcase in hand, ready to move on.
Joseph’s story should move, but, unfortunately, the man himself seems less a victim than an unregenerate perennial bad boy.