cover image Aaron’s Leap

Aaron’s Leap

Magdaléna Platzová, trans. from the Czech by Craig Cravens. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-934137-70-3

Czech author Platzová makes her English-language debut with a historical novel of prewar Weimar and the Bauhaus school, which also manages to be about the disparity between memory and history. Berta Altmann grows up in Vienna, a devoted diarist who records the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the birth of the Austrian Communist Party. She goes with her occasional lover, Max, to Germany, where they study with Czerny, the famous architect, painting light and weaving abstraction as the shadows of the Nazi party gather around them. On the verge of a remarkable career, Berta is instead interred in a concentration camp, condemned by the company she keeps. Among those intimates is Kristýna Hládkovà, a minor artist living in present-day Prague who recalls Berta for a documentary helmed by Aaron, a Czech Jew from Israel. But the premiere of Berta Altmann: Artist and Teacher will have unintended consequences for all involved, as Kristýna’s secrets begin to fill in the blanks in Berta’s diary, revealing the emotional truths that the camera overlooks. Platzová’s prose is as sharp and effective as the angles of an expressionist monument. Still, many of the framing characters and subplots, especially a distracting flirtation between Aaron and Kristýna’s granddaughter, Milena, are given too little room to connect and feel like clutter in this otherwise powerfully elegiac novel. (Feb.)