The Song and the Truth

Helga Ruebsamen, Author, Paul Vincent, Translator Alfred A. Knopf $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-40261-6
Dutch writer Ruebsamen casts a Proustian spell in her third novel, a bestseller in the Netherlands, published here in Vincent's graceful translation. Written in the style of a youthful memoir--with all of memory's distortions and defections--the novel follows a Jewish family from their comfortable life in the exotic Dutch East Indies to their increasingly isolated existence in The Hague in 1939, and to their WWII hiding place in rural Holland. The story is narrated by Louise Benda, who is only 10 when the novel closes in 1945. In the Java and Bali of her earliest years, Louise (called Lulu by her affectionate family) lives in a magic-lantern world where trees and streams speak to her, ""night people"" tend her and ""spirits slumbered in flowers."" Her high-strung mother, Helene, is beautiful and needy; her father, Cees (short for Caesar), is a physician at a clinic for women, where her Aunt Margot also works; a visit from Uncle Felix, Cees's brother, adds a new dimension to their complex relationships, especially as Louise witnesses, and unwittingly reveals, the betrayals among them. Meanwhile, war looms, and fears about their relatives motivate the Bendas to return to Holland, where they live with various members of their complicated and colorful family. The perceptions of the adult Louise are interjected into the story only occasionally, and the child's perspective, which gives equal credence to dreams and reality and which can only hint at adult motives, can be confusing. New characters enter the plot roughly the way they enter a child's life--with little or no explanation. Others leave as peremptorily, while characters who die remain alive for Louise. These complexities do not overwhelm the novel's charm and poignancy, however, especially since Ruebsamen treats all her wayward characters with great tenderness. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Open Ebook - 243 pages - 978-0-307-42937-7
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-375-70277-8
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4090-0182-9
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