Cella, Or, the Survivors

Franz Werfel, Author Henry Holt & Company $19.45 (244p) ISBN 978-0-8050-0907-1
This unfinished, semi-autobiographical novel about the Nazi takeover of Austria gives a searing portrait of a world on the verge of collapse. Werfel, best known for The Song of Bernadette , drew on his own experience as a Czech exile of German-Jewish descent. He wrote this story while hiding from the Nazis in southern France in the 1930s, before he escaped to America. His protagonist is Hans Bodenheim, a Jewish lawyer in an Austrian town, married to a Christian woman, and father of a daughter, Cella, a piano prodigy. (Cella was modeled on Werfel's stepdaughter Manon Gropius, the progeny of architect Walter Gropius and celebrated femme fatale Alma Werfel.) Unfortunately, Cella is an idealized image, perhaps the weakest character in a book intended primarily to show how Europe's Jews awoke to the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust. As the introduction notes, Werfel had an ambiguous relationship with fascism; his alter-ego Bodenheim never mentions Hitler by name (he's referred to as ``Antichrist,'' ``the great dragon,'' etc.), and he seems almost unwilling to confront the evil the Nazis embody. Even so, the story of his persecution, arrest and escape en route to a concentration camp is wrenching and heartbreaking in this fluent translation. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1989
Release date: 01/01/1989
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