cover image The Prince of West End Avenue

The Prince of West End Avenue

Alan Isler. Bridge Works Publishing Company, $19.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-1-882593-04-0

Set in a retirement home in Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1978, Isler's haunting first novel features Otto Korner, an Auschwitz survivor who is directing his fellow retirees in a retirement-home production of Hamlet. Otto blames his smug refusal to heed his first wife's desperate pleas to flee Nazi Germany for the tragedy that befell his family in the Holocaust. To keep his sanity, he searches everywhere for signs of a ``greater Purpose,'' which constantly eludes him, even when the retirement home's new physical therapist turns out to be a dead ringer for Madga Damrosch, an old flame who broke his heart in Zurich in 1916. The retirees' sexual escapades, feuds and political debates alternate with Otto's flashbacks to Hitler's Germany, or, much more often, to Zurich, where as a young literary journalist and emigre German poet he met Lenin and mingled with Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and their Dadaist circle. Isler, who teaches English literature at Queens College, has created a deeply cultured, fiercely articulate protagonist whose ironic voice hooks the reader as he ruminates on death and old age, love and libido, Mozart and the madness of history. (May)