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A sequel to Demetz's The House on Prague Street (1980), which was an intelligent, trenchant, fictionalized memoir about a young girl's growth and emotional survival in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Here, Helene, at 60, is a recently divorced American who contemplates the dissolution of a marriage, shadows from a European past, and a new understanding of her own needs and achievements. ""I have had too many lives. . . There is no chronology. Events overlap, reference points disappear, people who belong to one life suddenly appear out of context in another."" It was a close friend who in that first postwar year in Prague warned Helene that Paul was a ""cold fish"" who would never serve in all the roles Helene needed as friend and father and mother. As for Gerd, her German lover, miraculously still alive, Helene could not forgive him for surviving in prison, as her father did not. (Years later there will be a bittersweet idyll.) Helene and Paul (like her, half-Jewish) skimp along under American and then Russian occupation (both are young and determined), arrange, after dangerous detours, an escape to the West, and eventually arrive in America. Over the years, there's the climb to comfort, and then luxury as Paul drives on to a stellar academic career--and status. There are also two daughters, and Helene is happy at times; yet Paul is always removed and ""in motion,"" while she is ""burdened forever with memories."" Finally, Helene realizes that through the years all the warmth had come from her, and now Paul's defection, her own career, and a new love offer a happy end to a bitter journey. The slippery character of Paul--a potentially rich study of fevered acquisitiveness and power-playing in reaction to the powerlessness of a wartime and immigrant youth--is not fully explored. Still, Demetz writes with an agile, crisp confidence, and her account of early years of deprivation and courage are sharply convincing.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's