Holocaust survivors and their children battle dreams, memory and elusive truths in this debut collection.
In “The House on Kronenstrasse,” Christiane returns to Germany after her elderly mother dies, traveling from New York, where she was raised, to Heidelberg, the town where she was born to a Nazi soldier who died early in the war, and a German housekeeper, who worked for a family of wealthy Jews. She makes the trip to her mother’s deathbed, urging that she go back to the home where they lived as a family, at 58 Kronenstrasse. When Christiane arrives there, however, she finds that her own childhood memories seem to be those of another girl’s life. “The Porcelain Monkey” blends a historical footnote—in 1759, the composer Felix Mendelssohn’s grandfather, a Jew, was forced to buy 20 hideous, life-sized porcelain monkeys from the Royal Porcelain Works in order to obtain King Frederich’s permission to marry—with a contemporary Orthodox Jew’s decision to reveal to her daughter some dark secrets. In “The Lamp,” Miriam finds her mother, Ruth, has passed away, leaving behind a note asking her to protect the ugly old lamp her mother brought to America as a refugee from Germany. In a parallel storyline, Ruth narrates the provenance of the lamp—and her daughter. “Dark Urgings of the Blood” follows the increasingly fraught relationship between psychiatrist Deborah and her patient Dvorah, an Orthodox mother of seven who is institutionalized for trying to kill her infant son. The similarity of their names is just the first of many coincidences that lead Deborah to explore a darkness of her own. Nayman, a psychologist, constructs powerful emotional journeys for her characters, but does so from a clinical distance that keeps the reader once removed.
Still, these characters’ observations and revelations ring true.