cover image An Exclusive Love

An Exclusive Love

Johanna Adorján, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell, Norton, $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-393-08001-8

In a striking debut, Adorján mingles past, present, memory, and imagination to find meaning in the dual suicide of her charismatic grandparents in October 1991, when the author was 20. Noting the suicides of other concentration-camp survivors like Primo Levi, Arthur Koestler and his wife, and many others, Adorján asks, "Is it typically Jewish to kill yourself after you have survived the Holocaust—so then you determine for yourself how you want to die?" Effectively she re-creates the deaths of a still-glamorous couple; her grandmother, a woman in her early 70s whose enduring beauty recalled film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, and her cigarillo-loving 82-year-old grandfather. Both survived the Mauthausen extermination camp after being deported from Hungary along with 600,000 other Jews. The author's search for the life experiences that led to such a haunting end takes her to Budapest, Israel, Paris, and Copenhagen and forms a living history of a passionately devoted couple that embodies much of 20th-century European Jewry. The pedantic details of the author's repetitive yet lyrical imaginings of her grandparents' last day are heartbreaking. Ending her book with excerpts from the police report may not have been the most poignant conclusion, but it is the most complete. (Jan.)