THE TORTOISES by Veza Canetti


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Following by ten years the English-language publication of her only other novel, Yellow Street, and originally meant to be released in 1939, after Canetti fled with husband Elias from Vienna to London, this heavily autobiographical account depicts their life in Austria after the Nazi Anschluss. Eva and her husband Kain, a respected writer, are waiting quietly in a small village for the visa that will deliver them to London when their landlady informs them they will have to give up their apartment to a newly arrived Austrian Brown Shirt named Pilz. A pilot and self-professed artist who openly admires Eva’s figure, Pilz agrees to share the apartment until their visa arrives and wastes no time in putting the make on his hostess. Eva enlists the help of a beautiful, rich neighbor to distract him, but Hilde goes too far, entering into a shady deal to buy a plane from Pilz that she can use to fly them all to freedom. When Pilz's wife suddenly shows up, matters take a turn for the worse: Kain and Eva are evicted and go to live with his brother in Vienna, but Kristallnacht brings down the Nazis’ wrath upon them; the brother, mistaken for Kain, is sent to his death in a concentration camp. The visa does arrive in the nick of time, and Kain and Eva can board a train that will take them away from the madness.

The talking-head characters and wooden dialogue here don’t do justice to a horrific real-life ordeal: riveting as a historical document, but undistinguished as a work of fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8112-1468-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001