La Valse and Foreign

Elisabeth Reichart, Author, Linda C. DeMeritt, Translator State University of New York Press $47.5 (147p) ISBN 978-0-7914-4773-4
""The cattle cars of death led right through the middle of his heart. And then continued through mine,"" reflects the narrator of postwar Austrian writer Reichert's title tale in this collection of 10 short stories. Though her narratives are clouded by the stale rhetoric of 1980s feminism, Reichert speaks ardently on the relationship between the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust and the everyday cruelty of late-20th-century patriarchal systems. Two stories explore Austrian denial of complicity in the workings of WWII concentration camps. In ""How Close Is Mauthausen?"" the narrator and her friend, Fanni, who are collaborating with the Resistance, are betrayed to the Nazis by the narrator's husband. Needless to say, when he returns home after the war, their domesticity is strained. ""How Far Is Mauthausen?"" set in present-day Austria, emerges from Reichert's experiences working as a tour guide at Mauthausen. ""The Scar"" is a chillingly effective tale recounting a woman's escape from her martinet husband, a plastic surgeon, who years before reconstructed Manuela's badly burned face. Deprived of her own face, and thus her identity, Manuela comes to think of her second face as her husband's brand, implying an ownership she can no longer bear. Unfortunately, Reichart's denunciatory style leaves little room for ambiguity--her stories are so ideologically over-the-top that her women fade into mere collages of victimhood. The market for uninflected feminist fiction is not what it once was, and these stories are likely to appeal only to the most politicized of readers. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 147 pages - 978-0-7914-4774-1
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