cover image Eduard's Homecoming

Eduard's Homecoming

Peter Schneider. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-374-14654-2

When Eduard Hoffmann, a German geneticist at Stanford University, unexpectedly inherits property in East Berlin after the Wall comes down, his life takes an unsettling turn. The bequest precipitates a crisis between him and his American wife, who is Jewish and unsure whether she wants to live in Berlin--or live with Eduard anywhere. And the inheritance forces him to explore his family history. Was his grandfather a Nazi profiteer who came to own the apartment house by dispossessing its original Jewish owners? And what about Eduard himself? Is he just another West German opportunist capitalizing on the misfortunes of East Germans? As a student in Berlin, he had been an adamant leftist, and he wonders if he has betrayed his ideals. Schneider entwines two plots here. One is an account of erotic difficulties between husband and wife. The other is the hero's discovery of united Berlin. The first strand lurches along without conviction. Love, sex, marriage and parenthood (the Hoffmanns have three children) seem to be alien terrain for Schneider. But Berlin, where he has lived since 1961, is plainly home ground. He explores the city and its unique double culture with knowing intimacy. As a result, the strength of this lucid novel of return lies not so much in its story as in its setting: Berlin with its squatters, anarchists, hooligan real estate speculators, leftists turned reactionaries, and its claim to new meaning in a new Germany. The novel's most persuasive character is the city itself. Schneider (Couplings; The German Comedy) portrays it with a sureness that recalls Tom Wolfe's fictional sallies into the life and culture of New York City. (Aug.)