THE MAN IN THE BOX by Thomas Moran


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 First-novelist Moran, who edits W magazine, has chosen an unconventional debut subject: a childhood encounter with the shadow of Nazism and the consequences of ethnic prejudice, set in Austria during WW II. In the village of Sankt Vero, shopkeeper Martin Lukasser is approached by a Jewish doctor, Robert Weiss, in flight from the Nazis and seeking refuge. Years earlier, Weiss had performed an emergency appendectomy on Lukasser's son Niki. In return, Martin now constructs a tiny concealed room, scarcely larger than a box, in his barn and hides the doctor in it for two years, until the war ends. Weiss's only ``visitors'' are the now adolescent Niki and the latter's best friend Sigi, a blind girl. The pair listen raptly as ``our Jew'' tries to pass the time by telling the story of his life (and, more reluctantly, of his loves). This is, therefore, a coming-of-age novel, short on plot and of interest mainly for the smoothness of Niki's present-tense narration and for Moran's characterizations. Dr. Weiss is, as the teenagers see him, opaque; Niki is believably sensitive and observant; and Sigi is especially vividly drawn--she isn't at all long-suffering or saintly, and there are streaks of irritability and cruelty in her that, oddly enough, endear her to us. Moran writes amusingly of adolescent sexual curiosity and confusion, presenting the Nazi menace as more inconvenience and annoyance than threat to the beleaguered villagers who must billet Wehrmacht soldiers in their homes and safeguard their daughter's virtue. Unfortunately, the story's impact is blunted by its reliance on several clichÇd characters, the most glaring of which are a taciturn father whose stoic demeanor masks an embarrassing secret, and the beautiful, lonely schoolteacher whom obtuse townspeople mistake for a seductress. The novel invites, absorbs, but does not fully convince the reader. A commendable first effort, then, but flawed by some flat secondary figures and a rather slow pace.(Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-060-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996


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