YESTERDAY'S STREETS by Silvia Tennenbaum
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A warmly intimate family-dynasty tale (with a grave undertone) about four generations, 1903-1945, of a wealthy German-Jewish family; Tennenbaum has softened her style, leaving behind the suburban hipness of Rachel, The Rabbi's Wife (1978) in order to cushion her characters here in an affectionate melancholy. In 1903 the Wertheims, headed by patriarch Moritz, are in vigorous transition from the old Jewish mercantile community to the assimilated bourgeois of Frankfurt's fashionable West End. And responding to the political, social, and artistic currents through the years are some talented, ambitious, non-conforming (and then staid) Wertheims. . . especially: Moritz's son Eduard, connoisseur of art, who will grandly take the responsibility of the family business and of lightly ordering, later saving, some family members' lives; his brother Jacob, a self-shriving intellectual leading a garret existence, who'll find true love in his sixties--only at the edge of a terrible death; their niece Emma, whose fragile, fearful consciousness cannot withstand anti-Semitism, a terror burned deeper by a disastrous marriage to a Prussian officer; and Emma's sister Helena (""Lene""), loving and loved, who will marry charming, inconstant childhood friend Tom, have an affair with ill, caustic prophet Paul, and wind up with concert pianist Manfred (with whom, along with Tom's daughter Clare, she will escape to America). Among the lesser Wertheims: a satirical journalist who, after the war, becomes a defeated French farm wife; a homosexual who heroically chooses to meet his death in Frankfurt; a doctor condemned by his gentile wife; a leftist idealist who keeps the faith that Russia betrays; and a gentle art historian who, as an American soldier, witnesses the results of Nazi bestiality. Finally, then, at the close of this busy novel--which is set in the cafes of Germany, Paris, and Florence, in grand houses and theaters, in savaged streets and eviscerated houses--Clare, in America, absorbs a knowledge of horror, her roots, and her own maturity. Too moodily edged and delicately detailed for the mass-market Evergreen audience, not quite serious enough to succeed in the vein of Garden of the Finzi-Continis--but a sleek, full-bodied saga overall, intensified throughout by the Frankfurt-born author's unmistakable personal involvement.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Random House