Poor orientation can be as useful a trick in storytelling as it is in magic. It can be tempting to follow the trail of a character who dives into the thick of it, but sometimes it’s best to stick with the one who got left behind. This is certainly the case with Bernhard Schlink OLGA (HarperVia, 288 p., $ 27.99), which traces the experiences of a quietly determined German schoolteacher, a survivor of two world wars and a life spent waiting for a lover who may never return.
Schlink is best known for his novel “The Reader”, and it is possible to see Kate Winslet, who starred in the film adaptation, as young Olga. Never quite in her place, never quite accepted in society, she manages to educate herself and forge a career, but her attachment to an aristocratic adventurer is constantly sabotaged by her desire to travel. Herbert’s devotion to her exists both “in the space between the classes” and in the space between his forays to the four corners of the world – until an ill-fated expedition to the frozen north of Europe, undertaken in the summer of 1913.
Olga’s fortune following her disappearance is recounted in Charlotte Collins’ gracious translation from German, which goes halfway through the first-person testimony of a man old Olga has known since he was born. is a sickly boy, amused by his tales of Herbert’s exploits. When Olga dies under mysterious circumstances, he is stunned to learn that she has named him her heir. And with that legacy comes a treasure trove of letters, never delivered to Herbert, which will reveal long-held secrets as well as the depth of his anger and pain. “I am,” she declares, considering a Germany whose thirst for greatness seems as destructive as that of Herbert, “the widow of a generation.”
The haunted man in the heart of Jai Chakrabarti A GAME FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (Knopf, 304 pp., $ 27) is one of the few survivors of a generation, a Polish immigrant in New York who cannot forget the makeshift family who were transported to Treblinka without him. Jaryk and his older friend Misha first met at a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw and are now the only two of its former residents who can testify to the heroism of its director, a historical figure named Janusz Korczak, who rejected the opportunity to save himself and accompany his young charges to the gas chamber.
Chakrabarti writes that its title refers to a play by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “About a Dying Child Alive by His Imagination,” which Korczak staged at the orphanage in 1942 – an attempt to comfort his beloved boys and girls, to “prepare them for what was to come.” Chakrabarti uses this historic footnote to imagine a brand new fictional production, organized 30 years later by an Indian scholar trying to save a threatened village whose inhabitants fled the violent birth of the new nation of Bangladesh. Invited to participate, Misha eagerly accepts. But Jaryk, who has finally met a woman he could trust with a glimpse of his past, allows him to fly to Calcutta on his own.
Misha’s sudden death sends Jaryk on a trip to the other side of the world that will plunge him into an increasingly complicated political drama. But it’s the fate of Lucy, the newly pregnant American he leaves behind, that gives Jaryk’s moral dilemma additional privacy: will honoring past loyalties sabotage those of the present and the future? As the novel moves between Lucy in America and Jaryk in India, with interludes that return to the Warsaw ghetto, we come to understand Jaryk’s “need to hide into oblivion” – and to hope that some other need will uproot him somehow.
The former narrator of Angel Khoury BETWEEN TIDES (Dzanc, 304 pp., $ 24.95) thinks she has resigned herself to the abandonment that has weighed on much of her adult life. However, the arrival in her lair of Cape Cod, by the beach, of a very curious young woman gradually triggers a torrent of memories. Gilly is the daughter of Blythe’s long-deceased ex-husband when he was almost 70. She desperately wants to know more about him and why he created a whole new family with his mother on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a ruthless attempt at a restart.
First reluctantly, then with unusual fervor, Blythe remembers the death of her fiance during the Civil War, which will lead to a long court with her brother and their mutual devotion to the windswept coast of the New England, where he worked as a hunting guide. and as a guardian of a rescue station. Despite his best efforts, he was as impossible to lock up as one of the wild birds he studied so carefully. As the 19th century drew to a close and the inevitable changes of the new century loomed, his frustration turned into rebellion.
In an afterword, Khoury writes stories she first heard as a child, rumors of a “man with two families”, from the north and south, barren and thriving, and her research in Massachusetts and North Carolina on what these families might have known – or imagined – about each other. From there, she built the character of Gil Lodge, who craved a son so much that he gave his last child, the fourth of his Southern daughters, his name. Fittingly, it remains so elusive on the page that Gilly and Blythe are vividly present. For them, he is inevitably defined by the natural world he loved. âGil was not married to us,â Blythe explains, âbut in one place, and there, he was the most loyal of men. “