THE RED CABBAGE CAFE by Jonathan Treitel


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Treitel's first novel, set in Russia in the 1920's, is full of comic potential and underlying messages about the absurdities of totalitarianism, but ends up being neither really funny nor wise. Narrator Humphrey Veil is an American Marxist engineer who goes to Russia to help build the Moscow subway. While his fellow workers are already disillusioned with the new state, idealist Veil quotes Lenin to prove that what is happening is quite in order. But politics is, as usual, not enough, and the lonely Veil meets Sophia, a builder of wax models who is carrying on the family business of making wax images of the famous. Sophia introduces Veil to the artists who patronize the Red Cabbage Cafe, and he becomes Sophia's lover. Meanwhile, Sophia's wax models have interested the Kremlin, and she is asked to make a model of Lenin so realistic that it can be used as a substitute on public occasions. Veil also gets involved, inadvertently becoming the recorded voice of Lenin. When Lenin dies, Sophia embalms a former lover's body instead of the real Lenin for the mausoleum. When Veil finds this out, he tries to make it public, but instead he finds himself deserted by Sophia, whom he has just married, and sent off to Siberia. Deported to Germany in 1939, he writes his memoirs, which, he is told, will be published after his death. Treitel writes with verve and wit, but somehow the profound (the loss of youthful ideals) and the comic (all that respect for a fake Lenin) just don't mesh. An interesting but flawed debut.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Pantheon