YELLOW STREET by Veza Canetti


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 The decision to publish a novel in ``five scenes'' by the late wife of Nobel prize-winner Elias Canetti, who has written an appreciative foreword, is understandable, but the work itself is too flawed to be anything but a sentimental gesture. These ``five scenes,'' first appearing in the early 1930's in the Austrian Marxist newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung, are set on the Yellow Street, the street of leather-merchants in Vienna. By the 30's, the street had become one of those thoroughfares on the cusp of change--respectable small stores alternated with drinking dens, and the houses of affluent merchants with the small rooms of servants. It was also a time of great economic distress and unemployment. Each scene revolves around one incident in which characters from the other stories are often present, with tales about Runkel, a badly deformed and angry shop-owner, who dies ``suffocated on her own miserliness,'' providing some continuity. A rich merchant complains about a young assistant, and she is fired by Runkel, though neighbors try to organize a petition; a husband abuses his wife, but the law is on his side; a young girl unable to find work attempts suicide because if she is rescued at least she'll be sent to a hostel and fed; a woman's virtue wins a bet for a poor man; an innocent child is victimized by a charitable organization. Time and place are competently evoked, but the story connections are tenuous, and the ways in which characters are manipulated to conform to the class struggle--and to a sentimental celebration of the working class--make it a dated polemic. Very thin.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8112-1159-2
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991