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THE MAN WHO WAS LATE by Louis Begley

THE MAN WHO WAS LATE

By Louis Begley

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41511-4
Publisher: Knopf

 Begley's prize-winning Wartime Lies is followed by this fastidiously (and sometimes artificially) crafted novel that chronicles the life--and the death by suicide--of a talented and successful man who was born a Central European Jew, survived WW II, and emigrated to America with his parents in 1947. No surname is given for this character named Ben, whose war- bedraggled parents found shelter in New Jersey, who by merit of his sheer braininess got into Harvard (in the Eisenhower-era 50's), and who surprised his classmates afterward by choosing to become not a writer but an investment banker instead. A rise in social class came with Harvard, with money, with success--and with an early but doomed marriage to the widowed, older, and beautiful Rachel, mother of two young daughters whom Ben will raise (and love) as if his own, and the dwindling of whose affection as the girls grow older will seem to Ben as deep a loss as any in his life. Exactly what's missing at the secret heart of the suave and worldly Ben may never be made entirely clear: what terrible loss it is that drives him toward despair even as he jet-sets to Paris, Tokyo, and Brazil as the hugely influential coordinator and bringer-to-fruition of vast international banking deals--and as, along the entire way, he looks for fine food, sex, and love, whether with young girls in Rio or with the married and elegant and psychologically uncertain Veronique in Paris, his passionate affair with said Veronique being star-crossed and doomed in such a way as to become the slightly-on- the-edge trigger of Ben's own highly dramatic final despair and last end. Often compelling if also frequently mannered: American saga of an immigrant's rise to the outward trappings of a patrician elegance, confidence and wealth, while the empty winds of hollowness and despair visit the heart inside.