cover image Lover, Traitor: A Jerusalem Story

Lover, Traitor: A Jerusalem Story

Anna Mitgutsch, Waltraud Mitgutsch. Metropolitan Books, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4174-3

A 30-ish Austrian Jew goes to Jerusalem--an embattled city that seems to invite only mystery and treachery--in order to sort out her tangled heritage in this fifth work of fiction from acclaimed Austrian writer Mitgutsch (Jakob). Narrator Devorah is already thoroughly ambivalent about her identity as a European Jew when she takes up with the mysterious Sivan, a 24-year-old who claims to be Armenian although all signs suggest he's a Palestinian who may be involving her in a terrorist plot. As Mitgutsch shows with great subtlety, Devorah's attraction to a city in conflict--its Arabs and Jews bitterly divided by religion and nationality--is in part the result of her own conflicted identity: she's a Catholic recently converted to Judaism, the grandchild of both a Holocaust survivor and a Nazi sympathizer. Devorah's shame about her origins clearly, pathetically, predisposes her to Sivan's mixture of tenderness and brutality. Mitgutsch draws strong, credible parallels between the personal and the political, connecting tensions in Israel, the more intimate battles between Devorah and Sivan and the conflict within Devorah herself as she grapples with her family's Nazi and Jewish past. Only occasionally does the prose grow unidiomatic or stilted, but these are minor missteps in an otherwise graceful translation, as Mitgutsch's deliberately spare rendering of Devorah's voice suggests the emotionally anesthetized state of an exile who's learned to fear intimacy with anyone. (Sept.) FYI: Mitgutsch received the Austrian Prize for Literature in 1996. She will teach at Lafayette College in the fall, and at Oberlin in the spring.