** The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal


The last name of the author of The Exiles Return may sound familiar, and indeed she is the grandmother of Edmund de Waal, of The Hare with Amber Eyes fame, a memoir of his family, which I highly recommend — and she is not, to my knowledge, related to Frans de Waal, the primatologist.  The novel, unpublished until now, has an authentic autobiographical feel and tells the story of Jewish exiles returning to Vienna after WWII. There is a chemistry professor, who finds himself in a lab headed by a not-so-reformed Nazi, and a teenage aristocrat sent by her parents to live out her angst in the motherland. I much preferred the story of the chemist, with its insidious whiff of antisemitism. The teenager’s story feels dated, with the young girl caught in tedious, almost caricatural romantic entanglements — but here again the weight of the conventions of that era are perfectly rendered, and perhaps it’s only the wish for wider possibilities that makes the story less appealing to a modern reader.

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