Poet Waldrop provides an evocative--though at times obscure--crosshatching of past and present in this first novel of a woman's search into her past. The story takes the form of letters written by the nameless narrator to her younger sister, Andrea, an ex-nun. We know little about the narrator's present life, aside from her unhappy marriage, but the novel is in any event really an attempt to re-create a childhood in Germany between the wars. Her parents were Josef, an otherwordly teacher, and Frederika, a vivacious, frustrated, would-be singer--not exactly a match made in heaven, and the letter writer chronicles the battles with great relish. The chief point of interest for the sisters is their mother's affair with a Jew named Franz Huber. Is Huber Andrea's father? Possibly, but he disappears during the war, probably into the death camps, and there is now no way of knowing for sure. Waldrop, author of five books of poetry, is at her best chronicling the private war that was her parent's marriage against the backdrop of Hitler's rise to power. Unfortunately, the novel has a self-consciously literary feel, suffering from a certain coyness when it comes to the mere necessities of reality, which is consistently sacrificed in the name of art. Still, a moving and sporadically absorbing tale.