Dense and deeply moving.
Austrian-born Mitgutsch (Lover, Traitor, 1997) writes with a passionate anger that can be discomforting, but her characters’ complex humanity is riveting.
Austrian [Anna] Mitgutsch (Lover, Traitor) delivers psychologically acute portraits of individuals struggling to define themselves as part of a larger community, and a penetrating depiction of postwar Austria’s unease with its not-so-distant past.
Melissa Rose Bernardo
An unmarried middle-aged man seeks self-actualization returning to his family’s long-deserted home. A ho-hum premise, but Mitgutsch shuttles easily between Max’s New York City home and his birthplace, an Austrian town known simply as H. No detail is extraneous, yet most are admirably subtle: Max is moved by the "sepia melancholy" of a picture; his New York becomes "a labyrinth of promises." And his homeland is no Sound of Music idyll; it’s littered with obstacles (his relatives’ war-ravaged past, his fading Jewish faith). Getting home proves a rough, rewarding trip and not just for our nomadic hero. A-
Mitgutsch’s richly evocative prose explores the pull to home, which for Mira is the Austrian village that with husband and children she fled in 1928 for New York. It lives vibrantly for her in photos, along with the role she played there of favorite daughter of a father who eventually starved to death in a Polish ghetto. Her legacy to youngest son Max is the yearning to return, and at middle age, the successful architect and bachelor–ladies’ man journeys to reclaim the family property and his mother’s dream. "The lion’s not here," he exclaims at sight of the place, referring to a statue seen in old photos, and Spitzer, secretary of the Jewish congregation, rejoins, "not the only thing … different." Max’s ownership is questioned "as a purely legal matter," and his local attorney negotiates with the bureaucracy for months. Meanwhile, Max studies library records and comes to regard the property less as a promised land and more as a piece of land–until, that is, 21-year-old Nadja enters the picture.
Is it possible to develop meaningful relationships when one’s connections to family and ancestral land are severed? In this affecting novel, Mitgutsch, a prize-winning novelist, would seem to argue that it is not.