Freund (West of West End, 2008, etc.) pens a suspenseful collection of short stories about Romanian Jews as they lived before, during and after the Holocaust, bringing to life two-faced converts to Christianity, Swiss money-launderers and voluptuous enchantresses.
Fans of Eastern European history, Jewish literature and World War II remembrances will thoroughly enjoy Freund’s rich, unique characters, unpredictable storylines and well-deserved rewards. Freund is skilled at writing about his homeland, Romania, where he lived through student rebellions and the experience of being placed in front of a firing squad. In his second collection of short stories about Eastern Europe, Freund takes readers on a century-long journey with the stories roughly arranged in chronological order. He begins with a description of an alderman who lived in the late 1890s and ends with the thoughts of a treasure hunter who visits post-Communist Romania. Freund’s most daring venture, “Rational Expectations,” is about a reunion between old acquaintances and lovers; the author skillfully relates past and present events, including a passionate encounter in a pharmacy backroom, from multiple points of view. At times, Freund floods the text with too many historical details, and several stories—particularly “Koloman’s Cross”—read as tedious morality plays. But Freund rescues his work by injecting a playful spirit into his characters. In “Feeding the Piranhas,” two Romanian Jews make a business of booking tickets to Rio for German Nazis desperate to leave Portugal, and the price is always at least one suitcase of German stocks. After the war is over, the partners realize they have “to find a place with a proper appreciation of the virtues of both cleanliness and discretion.” They simultaneously arrive at the same conclusion: “Almost in unison we shouted out ‘Switzerland.’” Overall, the author presents a well-crafted, thoughtful commentary on corruption, anti-Semitism, love and secrecy.
Freund does a remarkable job of telling his “Tales” from the perspective of a countryman who understands that memories are sweeter in exile.