Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Nancy Huston

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-883642-64-7
Publisher: Steerforth

Acclaimed Canadian-born Huston, a longtime resident of France (where this novel, her seventh, was originally published), debuts here with a melancholy tale of a proud French flutist and a Marxist Hungarian Jew who, in the late 50s, share a secretive German woman. As France’s brutal war against its former colony Algeria erupts, the silent Saffie appears at Raphael’s door in Paris in response to an ad for a maid; without saying much, she soon has the job. In fact, her diffidence so excites the passions of her young employer that he seduces her, then asks her to marry him—a change of status she agrees to. What doesn—t change, even after their son is born, is Saffie’s attitude: she still feels indifferent about Raphael, though she cares for him in the same obsessive way she keeps house, while Raphael takes inspiration from his little family on his way to becoming the most acclaimed flutist of his generation. Little does he suspect that an errand run by Saffie to the shop of his instrument repairman has resulted in her giving herself—body and soul—to the man there. She lives for the next tryst with her lover, Andr†s, and Raphael unwittingly obliges the couple with his frequent tours and lengthy practice sessions. Only to Andr†s can Saffie, the child of a Nazi veterinarian, talk about her wartime past: living near Berlin, bombs killing her best friend, she and her mother being raped by Russian troops, her mother committing suicide. But to Andr†s, as a Jew in Budapest during the war, such horrors pale next to his own family’s suffering. What’s more, as a dedicated Marxist in Paris, he moves in dangerous circles, helping the Algerians to bring the savagery at home back to France. Despite their differences, however, the affair prospers—until Raphael finally discovers what’s going on and intervenes, with tragic results. A stylish, sophisticated story, complete with archly ironic narration, marred only slightly by an overly melodramatic end.