SAFE HOUSES by Lynne Alexander
Kirkus Star


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It takes imagination to be really free."" In this splendidly rich first novel, in which real personages make shadowy appearances, Gerda, a Hungarian Jew. lolling in her own legend of beauty, who never leaves her safe house in Brooklyn, and Jack. the little round baker, in his top-floor aerie, reveal their pasts--embedded in whorls of a muddled present--at ten-year intervals from 1956-1986. Gerda, from Budapest. and Jack, a master baker from Vienna, had met once in a kind of victims' apotheosis (a tableau vision featuring, in 1945, at Budapest's Hotel Majestic, a demon, a hero, and Gerda and Jack at an apex of fulfillment). There was Gerda, barebacked and star-freckled, and her lover Raoul Wallenberg, savior of the Jews of Budapest (whose mysterious disappearance in 1945 is in fact still under investigation); Adolf Eichmann, his face ""a thin eggshell""; and the master baker, offering his ""altar"" of a cake, ""more of a fairy tale than a sweet."" In Brooklyn now, Gerda and Jack (who gradually and then abruptly recovers his memory after prisons and a mental hospital) tell their stories. Jack feeds Rella, Gerda's starveling daughter with her pinched face and black teeth, on wondrous pastries, and nourishes her hope that Wallenberg still lives. Gerda, who views her daughter with distaste, has given her a paragon of a father--Raoul Wallenberg. But why should she see in the eyes of her daughter only the face of Eichmann and the ""final solution?"" As in a fable, demons and heroes appear--however unlikely they may be. It was Jack who fed razor blades to camp Kommandant Koch; and did Gerda tell the Russians, who arrested Wallenberg, what they wanted to know? It's only after Rella's death by fire that Jack and Gerda come together for a fat, safe and relatively passionless old age. An exciting evocation of the dream stuff of victims--flip cards of fantasy/reality in a blaze of fragmentary and dissolving memory. Yet at the core is the poignant need of wounded beings who only through creations of the hands or imagination, can feel free to exist at all. A fine and haunting novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum