cover image Himmelfarb


Michael Kruger. George Braziller, $18.5 (203pp) ISBN 978-0-8076-1363-4

The latest from elegant German stylist Kruger ( The End of the Novel ) is a bleakly comic memoir of a purloined life. Richard, the sour, diffident narrator, has built an acclaimed career as a travel writer and ethnologist on another man's work--a journal kept by Leo Himmelfarb, the German Jew who accompanied him on a wartime journey among the Indians of the Brazilian rainforest. Himmelfarb's observations reflected all the intellectual curiosity and ambition the Nazi-approved Richard lacked; Richard abandoned him, at death ' s door, in the jungle. Fifty years later, Richard celebrates his 80th birthday, a hollow man, his only companions a morose wolfhound and a pair of conniving domestics. Surrounded by unread books and unwanted testimonials, he is oppressed by the corrosive conviction of his own inauthenticity. But his sullen, solitary senescence is dramatically shaken by the arrival of a letter bearing the unmistakable hand of Himmelfarb himself--still alive, finally aware of the injustice done him and demanding recompense. In conception, Kruger's mendacious bookworm has clear echoes of Beckett and Bellow, but the wry philosophical tone that colors his reflections on his odd life lived in history's margins is quite distinctive. A tale rooted in the reveries of so stunted and unlikable a personality won't be to all tastes; but those who prefer the whimper to the bang will find much to admire in Kruger's deft shadings. (Sept.)