Stefan Zweig’s only novel was published in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War and some three years before his death, and its tale of a naive army officer in pre-World War One Austria seems to be set wholly apart from the terrible times he was living through. But it would be a mistake, in my view, to see it as an escape into ‘the world of yesterday’. Instead, I’d read the novel as an attempt to locate the low poisonous roots of Nazism, roots which later found expression in the despicable doctrine of Lebensunwertes Leben, in the world that Zweig was so familiar with.
Donatello, whose concentrated gaze and one time kiss brings to life the embittered Matteo as well as the bronze, or marble upon which the great Master lays his hands seems to breathe life not only into the statues he creates but into the very air breathed by those fortunate enough to share it with him.
Vienna Nocturne is outstanding, as well, because of Shotwell’s knowledge of opera. As a professional singer, a mezzo-soprano, she knows how a singer feels as she or he stands before an audience, and she can also put musical effects into words. When Anna first sings the role of Susanna, she has “the sensation of balancing a ball on her nose like a bear at a circus.”
Like Faulkner, Salloum writes impressionistically and uses stream-of-consciousness narration, demanding that the reader do some work to put together the strands of the characters’ stories. While his main themes are race, and the Southern heritage while hers is poverty. In some respects, Salloum’s novel resembles John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in its celebration of people on society’s fringes.
An excellent read for those interested in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and the transitions time has wrought. A somewhat melancholy, sad story, the tale nevertheless manages to present the pathos of the time without becoming maudlin.
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, presents a fictional early 19th century woman botanist. Alma Whittaker arrives at a theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest almost simultaneously with Charles Darwin, whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, was published in 1859.
Stylistically, Kohler makes excellent use of interior monologue, alternating between Freud and Ida. The novel is presented in a poetic, intimate way that encourages readers’ intense emotional involvement. Kohler also makes effective use of “flashes forward”, interrupting the present of the story to provide tidbits of information about the characters’ futures. The novel is suspenseful. We wonder: Will the young woman give in to Freud, or will she assert her own interpretation of her feelings? What becomes of her and the adults who poisoned her teenage years?
Kidd’s extensive historical research does much more than provide a backdrop to the story. The period details further the plot. For instance, the Grimke family acquires a state-of-the-art copper bathing tub on wheels, an innovation which allows a lying-down bath, and can be drained rather than dumped or bailed. When Sarah discovers Handful emerging from this tub in her room she feels, at first, that her privacy has been invaded. Then she realizes that “Handful had immersed herself in forbidden privileges, yes, but mostly in the belief that she was worthy of these privileges.
The names of these characters alone would be enough to inspire a novel, but Forsyth goes deeper, exploring a range of themes that includes the impact of tyranny (shown on multiple levels – both domestic and historical), emotional strength and weakness as manifested in drug addiction and prejudice, and the enduring power of the human spirit and love even when under great duress. In short, The Wild Girl is a novel that speaks, like the fairy tales that are woven deftly throughout the narrative, to the very nature of human existence in all of its frailties and strengths.
The forty year relationship between Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Edgar Degas, (1834-1917) is the subject of Robin Oliveira’s latest novel. Both artists were associated with the Impressionist group, which went outside the Paris art establishment, L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, with its annual juried “Salon” show, to win acceptance for their non-traditional paintings.