VIENNA GIRL by Ingeborg Lauterstein


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In the author's splendidly phantasmagorial The Water Tower, the Nazi occupation of Vienna was absorbed, in a fairy tale dimension (""glitter and treasure and cruel magic powers""), by a nine-year-old girl. In this sequel, the adolescent, at the war's end in Vienna. is beleaguered by enigmas of the past trailing clues into the present, and she attempts--afire with her own untried passions--to find her way through mirror mazes of deceit and masquerade, as Nazi-era dragons, witches and princes turn ordinary--and, above all, blameless. In 1945, fifteen-year-old Reyna Meinhert and Grandmother the Countess become gently sozzled on brandy in the cellar room Father had stocked with foodstuffs and fine wines. Grandmother looks for the return of the Hapsburgs and Reyna ruminates on the images of her loves: Rudolph Hess the dreamer, sitting on their garden bench; wonderful Uncle Eugene Romberg, dead in a mine of art treasures while Mother (some said she was Hitler's lover) bartered with a gardener/artist/killer; the bright ""young knight"" Cousin Bertl; playmate Eli, Eugene's son, now in Switzerland; Reyna's ""Frog Prince"" Arnold, in his S..S. uniform. Reyna and Grandmother are rescued by an old Marxist acquaintance from the invading Russians, and spirited to their other Vienna home to which Father and Mother eventually return. In schoolgirl excitation, Reyna teases some sexual boundaries as Americans occupy the Romberg's ""Water Castle,"" and becomes involved in the hostility between two officers, one of them bent on dark errands. Reyna is increasingly bemused by the chameleon switches of those muffling their Nazi past, and she strains to catch glimpses of that prime masquerader--the concentrated evil that was Nazi Schmiedler, embedded in gossip and her nightmares. Vienna is an improbable carnival: a troop of blind and deaf orphans dutifully sing out their ""Hefts"" for bread; Hanna Roth, the enigmatic dwarf who sent pigeons winging (warnings?) to Hitler, tells fairy stories on the radio; and Grandmother gives her last party for the old gallants of an old cause. Finally, Reyna, having observed the rules of Viennese games of pretending and deceit, welcomes back Eli and Arnold, will recognize finally that Schmiedler is dead, easily buried. Altogether: a fully fleshed, stinging probe of humanity's propensity to ""remember to forget"" the crimes and the fateful, doomed seductions of the past.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1986
ISBN: 0977064026
Publisher: Norton