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Clara Mondschein's Melancholia Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage; First Edition edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931561168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931561167
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,962,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two generations of Holocaust survivors tell their grim, affecting tales in alternating chapters in this somber, slow-going first novel by short story author Raeff. The more interesting is the first person account of 85-year-old matriarch Ruth Mondschein, as told to a dying young man in the Christopher Street AIDS Hospice, to which Ruth treks most days from her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Ruth hails from an upper-middle-class Jewish household in Vienna, where at a young age she falls into a disastrous affair with a wealthy gentile, then a stable marriage to the gay doctor who treats her father. The couple are eventually taken from a hospital where they are working in the Austrian Alps and deported to a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia (called, fictitiously, Pribor), where Ruth's baby, Clara, is miraculously and safely delivered. Alternately, teenaged Deborah Gelb tells of growing up in Englewood, N.J., around a mother (Clara) who suffers severe fits of debilitating depression, probably stemming from her traumatic camp birth. Deborah's voice is chatty and na‹ve, and her narrative is full of schoolgirl details. She tries to please her mother, but tends to awaken painful memories instead, as when mother and daughter flirt with the same lesbian painter, Marisol, on a trip to Madrid. In the end, Clara's so-called melancholia, depicted second-hand, remains incomprehensible to the family and to the reader. Ruth's tale, in contrast, is harrowing, and her voice luminously straightforward. Although its outcome is known from the start-allowing for little suspense-the novel is rich in detail and insight.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Clara Mondschein's melancholia, or depression, arises ostensibly from her having being born in a concentration camp during World War II. Yet interestingly, this affecting tale by first novelist Raeff, herself the child of refugees from the war, does not depend on the horrors of the fictional camp, Pribor, somewhere in Czechoslovakia, to jolt her readers. In fact, the camp experiences are not the main point, and Clara is not the main protagonist. Of far more interest than this woman who lies in bed and refuses to come out and join her family for weeks on end are her cellist daughter, Deborah, one of the novel's two main narrators, and her mother, Ruth, who also narrates. The captivating story here is the account of Ruth's extraordinary life as she relates it to Tommy, a hospice patient who lies dying of AIDS. Finding much to identify with in Ruth's life, Tommy urges her to continue her tale every day when she comes to visit because it gives him "something to fantasize about besides [my own] death." Ruth relates the long life she has shared with her recently deceased husband, Karl, and as she does so, we feel the sweep of the century, from prewar Vienna through the Holocaust to present-day New York. Recommended for all literary collections where sensitive writing set against an historical backdrop is appreciated.
Edward Cone, New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I confess I didn't finish the book. I tried, I wanted to , but as the depth of the character's mental illness and those around her took on more and more perverse and unreal proportions, I finally had to put it down.
As a daughter of Viennese Jewish holocaust refugees, I was highly motivated to continue. I was intrigued by the descriptions of pre-war Jewish life in Vienna and charmed by the Viennese locales. I hoped to strongly identify with the characters, especially the following generations. I was ultimately, however, only repelled.
From what I read, I found Clara's depressions and the capitulation of those around her to the disease (although the daughter seems to be finding her way as I closed the book) abhorrent.
Maybe the subject is too personal and I was looking for strength and heroines, however I would warn potential readers to tread carefully unless you are a fan of the dark side of the psyche.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I found this book a very insightful and gripping account of ways in which the Holocaust affected three generations of women. I highly recommend it not only to readers who are interested in the Holocaust and its survivors, but also to those who are interested in women's lives and relationships.
The book thoughtfully examines ways in which people respond to horrific tragedy and goes on to discern shadows cast by these experiences on later generations. It is composed of two narratives, one of Ruth, the resilient Holocaust survivor, who tells her story to a dying AIDS patient, and that of Deborah, Ruth's searching teenage granddaughter. Both women tell their own stories, and separately paint a haunting portrait of Clara, Ruth's sensitive and suffering daughter, and Deborah's mother.
I think that Ms. Raeff is especially successful with Ruth's story, which really drives the book. When Ruth spoke, I just couldn't put the book down! Ruth grows up in Vienna in a family riven by tragedy; her mother runs away and her father, under the stress of growing anti-Semitism, becomes depressed and eventually dies of "melancholia". Following a failed love affair, Ruth marries her father's doctor, who it turns out, is gay. They find a hiding place during the war in the Austrian Alps, are eventually found out, and spend the remainder of the war in Pribor, a fictional concentration camp. Under the favor of the camp commander and the protection of other prisoners, Ruth is somehow able to survive, give birth to a daughter, Clara, and make her way to a refugee camp in Germany and later New York.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Clara Mondschein's Melancholia is one of those books that you wish would never end! What a great new addition to the contemporary literary scene!
The book alternates between the voices of Mrs. Mondschein, a holocaust survivor from a modest Jewish family in Vienna, now living on Manhattan's west side, and her granddaughter, Deborah, an adolescent growing up in Tenafly, NJ, a New York City suburb. I could go on indefinitely listening to the 85-year-old Mrs. Mondschein telling her life story to Tommy as he lies dying of AIDS, and I could imagine forging ahead with Deborah as she charts her own future life course. As grandmother and granddaughter narrate, they thoughtfully weave together not only the compelling dramas of their own lives, but numerous issues that have pervaded the human condition probably since human life began. In her writing, Ms. Raeff is particularly adept at creating vivid moods, and describing the subtleties of contextual ambience, enabling the reader to really feel almost physically present in the book's varied settings -- from a dingy apartment in 1930's Vienna, to a lively neighborhood bar in 1990's Madrid, to a subway station in New York City (to name just a few settings).
With Mrs. Mondschein, we ponder the horrors of the holocaust from the distance of 50 years of subsequent living to see how some of its victims and survivors suffered, but also emerged with new strength and hope for a better world. Ms. Raeff's presentation of Mrs. Mondschein's time in a concentration camp creatively departs from the usual descriptions, as Mrs. Mondschein enters into an enigmatic relationship with the camp's commandant. Mrs.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Clara Mondschein's Melancholia brings together an array of intelligent characters, as diverse as the historical and cultural conditions in which they live. Differences of gender, age, and sexual orientation--all are blended in a memorable tapestry of stories that become one story through the voices of the two narrators--the grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Vienna, and her granddaughter, a teenage girl with musical talent and lesbian inclinations. Tying the two narrative threads together is the struggle of the grandmother and granddaughter to understand Clara, the daughter/mother who suffers from debilitating bouts of depression.
Anne Raeff's prose brings a smile to the lips, tears to the eyes, and enlightenment to the mind. No character or event is wasted. Even the most minor characters are well drawn, and the voices of the two narrators are particularly strong, honest, and insightful. The book was a pleasure to read, despite the need to treat harrowing events of twentieth-century European history. I was sorry it had to end.
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