Louisa

Simone Zelitch, Author
Simone Zelitch, Author Putnam Adult $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-14659-6
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-425-18195-9
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-101-20297-5
Open Ebook - 978-1-101-40784-4
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Among the risks that Zelitch (The Confessions of Jack Straw) takes in this haunting novel, the most daring is the voice of her cigarette-addicted, existentially angry, bitterly uncompromising narrator, Nora Csongradi Gratz. Not that Nora hasn't earned the right to complain. Having survived the Nazi liquidation of Hungary's Jews, she has lost everyone important in her life. Her husband, a clandestine Communist, left Budapest in the late 1930s and never returned; her beloved son, Gabor, is dead; and her charismatic cousin Bela, a Zionist who emigrated in 1919 to spearhead Jewish settlement in Palestine, has disappeared from his kibbutz. Nora herself has survived only with the help of her despised daughter-in-law, Louisa, a German whom Gabor married under duress because she hysterically insisted on becoming his wife. In 1949, when Nora reluctantly emigrates to Israel, her slavishly attentive daughter-in-law insists on coming tooDmirroring the biblical story of Naomi and Ruth. After Bela fails to meet them, they live in a transient camp where Louisa is cursed by Holocaust survivors. As Nora searches for Bela and relives her life in flashbacks, she gradually discloses the complex reasons that Louisa chose to cleave to a Jewish mother-in-law. Their symbiotic relationship is complex and bizarre. Louisa's determination to marry Gabor, and now to convert to Judaism, covers a desperate emptiness. But is she, in addition, a symbol of redemption? Nora, too, is obsessive about her secret love for Bela; only gradually, she learns that his life, despite its brilliant early promise, has been as empty as hers. Zelitch's narrative teases with emotional puzzles and surprises with unexpected developments. She shows virtuosic skill with background and atmosphere: Hungary's turbulent social ferment before WWII, and the clash of political ideologies during and after the conflict; the almost amicable relationships between early Jewish pioneers and their Arab neighbors; harsh postwar reality in Palestine. While she demonstrates a sure grasp of history, Zelitch here transcends historical events with a provocative depiction of the enduring mysteries of human relationships. (Sept.)
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