Would a new, liberal, and ecumenical Europe emerge from the bloody horrors of World War I and the dismantling of long-entrenched autocracies? The answer, according to Howard Sachar's authoritative Dreamland
, is a resounding "No." Sachar describes what we now know was the rapid collapse of post-war idealism by tracing the social and political fortunes of the continent's most fragile, resilient, and high-profile minority: the Jews. Though the bedrock of the book is a wide-ranging analysis of the highly complex European stew of nationalism, xenophobia, re-invention and revolutionary movements, Sachar manages to turn it into a narrative of sorts by focusing on the lives of a half-dozen or so "canaries in the mine": Sigmund Freud; Marcel Proust, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Kafka, and Hungary's Bela Kun among them. Dreamland
is a formidable work of erudition and scholarship; illuminating but extremely detailed and demanding. --H. O'Billovitch
From Publishers Weekly
In the political and social chaos that followed WWI, Jewish communities throughout Europe found themselves in new, often contradictory positions that seemed to suggest fresh possibilities for integration, explains Sachar (author of the highly regarded The History of Jews in America) in this accessible overview of the interwar Jewish experience. In Hungary, for instance, despite a violent outbreak of postwar anti-Semitism, a new coalition government was headed by the Jewish army officer Bela Kun. Sachar, a history professor at George Washington University, weaves a broad tapestry of social, economic and political conditions that is at times dizzying in its complexity and breadth. He looks at this hopeful era primarily through the stories of influential individuals like composer Arnold Schoenberg and socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, as well as less well-known figures such as Walther Rathenau, a Jewish businessman who became a diplomat in post-WWI Germany. Sachar has a keen eye for historical detail, and a fine sense of narrative. Yet the book feels uneven at times, offering a great deal of detail on some subjects (like the byzantine politics of interwar Czechoslovakia) that seems at odds with the more general sketches of figures like Freud and Proust. Nonetheless, it gives general readers a sense of the enormous diversity of experience among Jews during this time whether peasants, intellectuals, businessmen, atheists or believers and a concise explanation of how anti-Semitic stereotypes responded to this variety, eventually giving way to the devastations of the Holocaust.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.