THE BREAD OF EXILE by Karen Gershon


Email this review


Partly autobiographical, this raw-nerved and convincing chronicle, by a British poet and novelist, about two adolescent Jewish refugee children from Nazi Germany who arrived in England in 1938, mingles the normal teen-age turmoil with the unique bitterness, anger and aching loneliness of young people rejected and alien in a strange land. The day 13-year-old Inge and 15-year-old Dolph, her adored brother, left mother and father in the German train station, they recognized ""there was nothing left which their parents could do for them."" Six months later, after a chilly internment in Dover, being ""adopted"" by a working-class, well-meaning couple and desperately attempting to belong, Inge found it difficult to look at her parents' photographs: they ""were turning into lies before her eyes. . .they would no longer be looking like that."" Inge, counted as an enemy alien, will be forced to leave her foster home during the evacuations; she has an unpleasant interval with a religious fanatic who has conversion of the Jews on her mind; and eventually becomes a housemaid in the home of the man she will be dazzled by, Sebastian, a bomber pilot who's miraculously kind and loving, but tantalizingly ""beyond her reach."" As Inge hurls herself into a sort of feverish assimilation--devouring the intricacies and surprises of the English language--Dolph, who'd promised to look after Inge, sways from inaction to grandiose plans to rescue his parents. (He'll eventually go on a daring mission into Germany--too late.) Burdened by impossible responsibilities, Dolph is appalled by what he thinks is Inge's need of him--yet she is ceasing to see her brother as ""heroic."" There'll be a shocking proposal of marriage, via Sebastian's parents, as the airman lies dying (Inge probes for love, finds only pity and humiliation), and a dead-serious-to-playful relationship with homosexual Rudi, before a future opens up of love and marriage (not necessarily the same) that offers more ""than she had a right to expect. ""With a compassionate and watchful scrutiny, Gershon has monitored the erratic maturing of two castaway children from whom too much was asked. Intermittently most affecting.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Victor Gollancz--dist. by David & Charles