cover image Künstlers in Paradise

Künstlers in Paradise

Cathleen Schine. Holt, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-80590-4

Schine (The Grammarians) delivers another witty novel of manners, this time juxtaposing 1940s Hollywood with the present. Mamie Kunstler, 11, escapes from Vienna with her well-to-do Jewish family just as WWII begins. They settle in Los Angeles, where Mamie’s playwright mother, Ilse, lands a job writing for the movies. In 2020, as L.A. goes into pandemic lockdown, cantankerous Mamie takes her 24-year-old grandson, Julian, into her crumbling Venice home. Mamie entertains Julian, who’s having trouble finding himself, with stories about her charmed life around the movies, when, at a young age, she knew Christopher Isherwood, Anita Loos, and Greta Garbo, the last of whom she encountered on the beach at 12 and reconnected with at 20, the details of which she teases out to an increasingly enraptured Julian. One day while walking Mamie’s Saint Bernard, Julian meets Sophie, an attractive neighbor, and the two strike up a friendship with the promise of romance. Nothing much happens over the course of this effervescent confection, but it hardly matters because Mamie, Julian, and company are such enjoyable characters to hang out with. Reading like a cross between Leopoldstadt and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, this does the trick as an emotionally resonant meditation on family, memory, and the need for stories. (Mar.)