LIFE IS AN OPERETTA by Peter Ustinov


and Other Short Stories
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 From veteran actor, writer, and current UNICEF ambassador-at- large Ustinov (The Old Man and Mr. Smith, 1991, etc.), nine stories suggestive of other days and styles, featuring some rather dated themes and humor. Most of the tales here are European in setting and reflect the world of the late '40s and '50s, with characters who embody every national stereotype. Which would be fine if Ustinov's strained satire worked, but it doesn't--with one exception: ``The Assassins,'' a labored but occasionally amusing riff involving a band of aging anarchists who are sent by the French police to Corsica on vacation every time they threaten to blow up a visiting world leader. The title piece follows the career of Mitzi, a Hungarian singer whose doleful admirer reminds her that ``life is not an operetta.'' The admirer, however, is repeatedly confounded by the remarkably resilient Mitzi, one of those ``impossible, dangerous and impervious people'' for whom ``life is an operetta after all, and can never be anything else.'' Other stories limn an American president and a Soviet leader, who, at the height of the Cold War, discover that they share a common passion for stamp- collecting, including even the same rare stamps (``Dream of Papua''); a newly married Englishwoman who decides that she's more in love with the dog an old lover gave her as a wedding present than with her boring husband (``The Gift of a Dog''); and a French banker, vacationing in Switzerland, who becomes embroiled in local feuds (``The Swiss Watch''). Most poignant and affecting of all is ``The Loneliness of Billiwoonga,'' which traces the struggles of a concentration camp survivor, his entire family lost in the Holocaust, to establish a new life in a small Australian town. He marries, then finds himself in business with a former Nazi officer, so anxious now to be liked that ``every gesture was a bribe, the payment of a debt on the installment system.'' Faded period charm.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-57392-150-5
Page count: 258pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997


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