THE VISITABLE PAST: A Wartime Memoir

Leon Edel, Author . Univ. of Hawaii $45 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8248-2430-3 ISBN 0-8248-2431-8

This beautifully written work by renowned Henry James scholar Edel (1907–1997), prepared for publication by his widow, Marjorie, is everything a fine memoir should be: graceful, vivid, moving and relevant. Unlike many memoirs, Edel's focuses on only certain years in his life: his time in the U.S. Army during WWII, beginning in 1944, when he was 35. Raised in Saskatchewan, admittedly "Euro-centered," and supremely schooled in great literature, Edel is not the typical soldier; and as a Jew, he feels deeply for the Allied cause. After nine months as a GI, Edel is promoted to "technical sergeant in psychological warfare," fighting Nazi propaganda in occupied France. Edel's position takes him to Omaha beach four weeks after D-Day, to occupied Paris and to Strasbourg under siege. Along the way, he encounters a colorful assortment of characters—from prostitutes and collaborationists to famous literary folk such as Sylvia Beach—but he feels a special affinity with other Jews he meets. True to life, this memoir offers no simple closure. Edel may be going home, but the war is far from over and his troubled first marriage awaits him in New York. Louis Auchincloss provides a foreword praising Edel's "symphony of motifs, some blaring and triumphant, some soft and sad, some with terrible discords." Photos. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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