The Empress of Weehawken

Irene Dische, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (307p) ISBN 978-0-374-29912-5

F rau Professor Doktor Rother, the narrator of this brutally funny debut, is self-centered, cynical, sarcastic, fiercely proud of her Aryan heritage and incorrigibly anti-Semitic. As a German army nurse in WWI, Elizabeth Gierlich meets wealthy Jewish surgeon Carl Rother and marries him once he converts to Catholicism. They have a “racially impure” daughter, Renate, whom Elizabeth mocks and chastises relentlessly, even as she dotes on her. After the Nazis rise to power in Germany, life for Elizabeth's in-laws becomes precarious (“forced labor was not a high-earning profession”), and Carl's “honorary Aryan” status can't protect him from the SS once he irks them by protesting the forced sterilization of Jews. The Rothers flee to the “less-civilized world” of Weehawken, N.J., where Renate grows up, marries Jewish professor Dische, becomes a successful pathologist and has two children, a boy too intelligent for his own good and a rebellious daughter, Irene, whose adventures, tracked via letters and collect calls home, take her across the Middle East and Africa. Elizabeth dies in 1989, still outspoken and bigoted, and continues to meddle in her beloved daughter's life from Heaven. Dische evokes human failings so skillfully that readers will catch themselves laughing at mankind at its cruelest and darkest. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2007
Release date: 08/01/2007
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4299-3339-1
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-312-42795-5
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