A finely crafted if emotionally cool exploration of a legacy of wartime guilt, a burden lifted only when a retired Dutch-born entomologist meets an antique dealer with her own sorrows.
Tristan Martens is an authority on beetles. He lives alone in a Manhattan apartment filled with cases of specimens he has collected. Since his bypass surgery, he’s acutely conscious of his scarred body, but even more troubled by his psychic scars. His marriage has ended, and his wife now lives with his born-again son Christopher—more a concept than a credible character—who sends ranting messages urging Tristan to repent. In the end-zone of his life, Tristan is in sore need of solace, which he finds when he goes into an antique store and sees his mother’s old sewing table. The proprietor, Cora Lowenstein, refuses to sell it because it serves as a necessary reminder of her past. She tells him that the table, which belonged to her husband’s aunt, a Jew in hiding during WWII, bears on its underside in a childlike hand an inscription in Dutch: “When the Jews are gone, we will be the next ones.” Cora interprets this as a warning, but Tristan knows it’s true, and more vicious, meaning. Planning to steal the table, he becomes involved with Cora, taking her to lunch, meeting her for coffee, and accompanying her as she visits her hospitalized husband, now in a coma. These meetings inevitably evoke painful memories of his father, a Dutch Nazi, and his older sister, a Hitler Youth who responded to his family’s imprisonment for their collaboration by committing suicide. Haunted by his family’s complicity, Tristan finally finds peace as he confesses his past to Cora, who has crises of her own to face.
An elegant but lifeless stories held prisoner by an idea—in this case, the long shadow cast by the war.