THE WATER CASTLE by Ingeborg Lauterstein
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THE WATER CASTLE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Nazi occupation of Vienna re-cast as a sort of Grimm's fairy tale--exuberantly fantastical, richly whorled, alive with mythic secrets. Lauterstein's narrator is nine-year-old Reyna von Meinert Dornbach Falkenburg--who views the mix of familial aristocrats and invading grotesques with eyes as wide open, appreciative, and wary as Alice's. Through her ninth year Reyna will ""enjoy herself as a Catholic, a Jew, a Nazi German, a monarchist, a military strategist, an occultist, and a Bolshevik"" while wavelets from Nazism unsettle the confections of privilege. Reyna's lovely mother Annerl (seldom seen without Puppe, her doll of mysterious portent) and handsome cousin Berthold excitedly work for Nazism, although later they will feel ""uneasy as after a hasty, artless act of love."" Reyna's father Ferdl disapproves and will help his Jewish friend, Eugene Romberg, to escape, but he'll take over Eugene's dairy and explain to sympathetic Nazis that he's only an ""apolitical peasant."" And, for Reyna, Eugene's home is the ""Water Castle"" (""Was it a mirage. . . deliciously doomed?""), where Eugene's gentile opera singer wife Resi sings like a bird in her pleasure dome, defiantly wearing the Star of David. But later she'll sing for Hitler, while the Water Castle welcomes a Goering orgy (these images appear, then dissolve like ""afterimages of a child's nightmare""); and, throughout, a Nazi gardener keeps popping up like an evil Jack-in-the-Box, along with the dwarf Hanna, a dolls'-clothes seamstress, a wicked/beneficent fairy who will read the future for ladies. . . and Hitler. Events whirl and change in eddies of violence, amorous exchanges, and surprise appearances. Old deathbed and birthing stories are uncovered and exposed like useless driftwood, while Hanna burrows like a termite into possession of the Water Castle. And at the close Eugene is found in a cave and dies (myth-hungry peasants proclaim it was Hitler) while Reyna watches her Countess grandmother, gleaming with gems and hunting horn in hand, extinguish the end of empire as the Russians arrive. With a dauntless patrician vigor, Lauterstein embraces both the ""reality of the fantastic"" and the reality of monstrous human delusions: a splendidly mesmerizing, startlingly fresh treatment of a familiar nightmare.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1980
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin