Bedford's historical account, in which two very different families are bound together by marriage, money, and tragedy in the time just before WWI, parallels her own early life. In a recently unified Germany on the brink of war, familial struggles reflect the country's precarious foundation. When Julius von Felden, a well-off man of Catholic descent with more cachet in his cultural pursuits than money to his name, meets and marries Melanie Merz, a young Jewish woman from an affluent family, their union produces a daughter and causes tension. Although their time together is short-lived—Melanie succumbs to illness, leaving behind Julius and their daughter—Julius continues to receive an allowance from the Merz family. The Feldens, French-speaking Catholic aristocrats from the south of Germany, live a rich and rural life in the country. When Johannes, one of Julius's three brothers, is shipped off to a Prussian cadet camp and runs away, causing scandal within the family, the catastrophic results are felt for years. Then a tragic accident exposes secrets and motives, causing an irreparable rift between the families. Fraught with Prussian politics and heavy-handed historical context, this is less a bildungsroman than a tale of a family adjusting to a changing country. Bedford's cool, insightful narrative style leaves her characters flat and unchanging in the face of great historical change. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/23/2015 Release date: 03/03/2015 Genre: Fiction
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