cover image The Canvas

The Canvas

Benjamin Stein, trans. from the German by Brian Zumhagen. Open Letter, $16.95 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-1934824658

Stein's inventive debut is an unconventional novel that explores the stories of two different yet connected individuals through the collision of past and present. In a kind of choose-your-own-adventure for adults, readers can flip between parallel narratives (to do so requires literally flipping the book over), or read through each linearly. One story follows Jan Wechsler, a Jewish writer living in Munich, who, due to the arrival of a long-lost suitcase, discovers that his personal history is not what he remembers it to be. His marriage and life slowly unravel as he learns of what he has inadvertently covered up%E2%80%94namely, his role in the downfall of Minsky, the author of a Holocaust memoir. The second narrator, Amnon Zichroni, is an Israeli Orthodox Jew with the ability to experience other peoples' memories, a gift he uses in his job as a psychiatrist. Zichroni's approach is said to be responsible for his former patient Minsky's delusions, his discredited memoir, and his subsequent ruin. In addition to telling a compelling story, Stein deftly raises provocative questions about the ethics of adopting false beliefs to preserve a particular reality. Narratives and narrators converge%E2%80%94literally and symbolically%E2%80%94in the book's climax, which, while suitable for a book about competing frameworks of memory and identity, may leave readers desiring a more concrete ending. (Sept.)