Farewell, Dresden

Henri Coulonges, Author, Lowell Bair, Translator Summit Books $18.45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-671-61779-0
Coulonges's first novel published in the U.S.in Bair's smooth translationmarks a solid, if undazzling debut. His fictional account of the closing months of WW II, told from the perspective of 12-year-old Johanna Seyfert, who narrowly escapes death in the firebombing of Dresden, picks up momentum, amplitude and resonance as it proceeds; yet it remains disappointingly one-dimensional, approaching and yet failing to do justice to the tragic enormity and complexity of its subject. With her father dead, her sister killed in the bombing, her neighborhood razed and friends killed or missing, Johanna flees to the countryside with her mother Leni, who has been shocked into a stupor. They come under the protection of Hans Kerbratt, leader of a children's choir and a former lover of Leni who arranges treatment for her in Prague. There they are welcomed by an associate of Johanna's father, the paleographer Josef Hutka, whom Johanna reminds of a youthful love in Mesopotamia. The denouement builds with tragic force as the Nazi occupation collapses, but ultimately this imaginative reconstruction lacks depth and revelatory power since its potential themes are left undeveloped. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1989
Release date: 02/01/1989
Genre: Fiction
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