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A Memory of War: A Novel Hardcover – February 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049787
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,378,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The legacies of betrayal, illicit love, guilt and loss haunt the protagonist of Busch's powerful new novel, a meditation on the long reach of history, and its aftermath of alienated souls. The son of Polish immigrants who escaped the Nazis by fleeing to England and then to the U.S., Alexander Lescziak is a successful Manhattan psychoanalyst, well trained in eliciting the secrets of the heart. Now middle-aged, long married to Liz, a painter, he becomes aware that his own life's secrets are threatening to overwhelm him. During his childhood, his mother's mysterious neurosis damaged Alex, rendering him distant and aloof. His marriage is slowly dying of desiccation, and it's possible that Liz is being unfaithful with their best friend. Alex himself has committed the ultimate moral and professional sin by commencing a passionate affair with a suicidal patient, Nella Grensen, herself a child of Holocaust survivors. Nella disappears, and a distraught Alex is simultaneously faced with another dilemma, the challenge of a smarmy man who claims he's the illegitimate son of Alex's mother and a German POW with whom she had a clandestine relationship during the family's stay in England's Lake District. Moreover, the purported half-brother, William Kessler, is a spokesperson for a group claiming that the Holocaust is a myth invented by Jews to vilify innocent Germans. (The novel is set in 1985, with the furor over President Reagan's visit to SS graves in Bitburg providing historical context.) Almost overcome with depression, Alex retreats into his imagination, conjuring up vivid scenes of his mother's adultery and his father's secret sacrifices. While the novel's emotional landscape is bleak, Busch's portrait of a man trying to surmount his demons is masterful. The author of The Night Inspector and 18 other richly insightful novels again explores the human condition with precision and compassion.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Contented psychologist Alexander Lescziak finds his life turned upside down when a new patient announces that he is Lescziak's half-brother, the result of their Jewish mother's affair with a German prisoner of war. From the author of The Night Inspector, a PEN/ Faulkner and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Curtis Grindahl on December 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps I shouldn't marvel that someone would give this beautifully crafted book one star, but then again I think I understand. I was half-way through the book when my library called and told me they had The Da Vinci Code I'd requested two months earlier. I set aside Mr. Busch's work and dashed through Dan Brown's popular thriller. It was a gripping piece of fluff with about as much character development and attention to place as a cereal box. I enjoyed myself, but it was a delight to return to A Memory of War, and immerse myself once again in a master's meditation on memory and fallibility.
Alex is a disturbed soul whose life disintegrates before our eyes as he examines how we construct a sense of self out the memories and memorabilia of life. That the journey happens almost exclusively within his consciousness, wherein he recreates the history of his family as well as relationships with his psychotherapy clients, is perfectly sensible. For anyone who needs to have a narrative thread with carefully marked events to follow a story, Mr. Busch's meditation would be challenging indeed. The invitation is to suspend critical thought and go as the mind goes, hither and yon, from present moment to past and back again. Note your own mind sometimes and observe how often reverie intrudes on your awareness. A word in a conversation can transport you to other scenes, other moments with other people.
Nothing is neatly tied together in this beautiful book, yet Mr. Busch's characterizations are rich and haunting. This is the stuff of real life, of real struggle with coming to terms with loss, disappointment, longing, fear, confusion. I feel so much gratitude that I have encountered this author and look forward to reading more of his sumptuous prose. I'll still enjoy an occasional thriller, but cotton candy aside, it is wonderful to know where to find real literature when I seek something more than diversion. Five stars for this exceptional writing is easy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I feel slightly guilty only giving A Memory of War four stars. Frederick Busch is a wonderful writer. I was disappointed by this book, but I think that is due to my faulty expectations. I selected it because I was intrigued by the plot and I enjoy literary historical fiction. The central concept is simple and compelling. Alex Lescziak is a New York psychoanalyst whose parents escaped from Poland and lived in England during World War II. One day a new patient reveals himself to be Alex's half brother, William Kessler. William's father Otto was a German prisoner of war who had an affair with Alex's mother Sylvia in England, while Alex was a toddler. There are two sub-plots. One revolves around Alex's wife, Liz,who he suspects is having an affair with his best friend, and the other involves one of his patients, Nella, with whom he is having an affair. She is suicidal and now missing.
I was expecting two narrative streams, one following events in the present (1985) and one actually telling the story of Sylvia and Otto. In fact, the reader experiences all of the characters through Alex's consciousness. We know the characters only through Alex's imagination. I really disliked this while I was reading the book. However, after finishing it, I find myself still thinking about Alex and all of the other characters. It turns out that I was able to accept the book on its own terms afterall. Busch convinced me that his was the "true" story, regardless of the facts. On one level it bothers me that the book offers a single perspective -- probably because I expected something different -- but it is strangely satifying anyway.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I guess my tags here say it all: holocaust, Auschwitz, Jews, family relationships, psychotherapy, adultery, World War II (and passing references to WWI too), and Vietnam. The fact is, there's so much stuff in this densely complex novel that I often found myself going back to reread parts that I hadn't paid enough attention to the first time through. Because here is a novel so richly researched and imagined that it will stay in your mind for a long time after you put the book down. A Memory of War encompasses two wars - WWII, which precipitated the flight and immigration of the parents of the protagonist, Dr Alex Lescziak, a middle-aged clinical psychologist in NYC; and Vietnam, represented by one of his patients, a brutal, duplicitous and damaged Transit Authority cop, who served in SE Asia.

Lescziak is perhaps one of the most intricately imagined anti-heroes in recent modern fiction. Perhaps suffering from career-related burnout, he has entered into an unethical and adulterous affair with a disturbed woman patient young enough to be his daughter. And yet he still loves his wife of twenty-some years, although he fantasizes (imagines?) that she is carrying on an affair with his best friend, a psychiatrist. Another patient key to the whole novel is William Kessler, a man who claims to be Lescziak's half-brother, the result of an affair between Alex's mother and a German POW in England's Lake District during the last year of the war, when the Lescziaks were refugee workers there.

Alex is torn by Kessler's tale, but believes him enough to research his stories at the NYC Public Library, where he apparently finds enough to richly imagine in near-pornographic detail his mother's affair with the German, how she must have felt and how it all might have happened.
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