As if love affairs were not already delicate enough, in Hester Among the Ruins
, New Yorker Hester Rosenfeld decides to write the biography of her older German lover, Professor Heinrich Falk. Born in 1943, and married for the fourth time when he and Hester meet, Falk seems a German Everyman, embodying the troubled postwar identity of his nation. To be near her beloved, Hester moves to Munich. Their affair is secret. She spends her spare time in her hotel room, writing up notes and congratulating herself on how happy she is in the role of Other Woman. But being in Germany and researching the wartime years makes her think for the first time about her own Jewishness, and about her elderly immigrant parents who were so eager to assimilate into American culture that dishes like Rice-a-Roni appeared nightly on the dinner table. Hester comes to terms with her own shame and guilt while building a store of belated anger that finds expression in the direction of her research: the Nazi connections of her lover's family. "With vision skewed," she admits, "I am on the lookout for bad behavior. I expect these people to be hateful; I want them to be hateful, because if they are hateful then the world makes sense." A closely observed novel with an atmosphere of constriction and suspense, Hester Among the Ruins
is a riveting, unsentimental exploration of the limits of love and understanding. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
This tale of a Jewish biographer's literal love affair with her German subject describes with worldly and generally persuasive candor the history that complicates their relationship. Hester Rosenfeld, an American Jewish historian born in 1963, travels to Munich to interview Heinrich Falk, a German historian 20 years her senior, for a scholarly work about his life. As Hester unravels biographical threads rolled out by Heinrich's relatives and numerous ex-wives, she finds that his present rejection of his heritage (most specifically, his mother's sympathies with the Nazis) is not as simple or absolute as it seems. She also falls head over heels in love with him, eventually causing the temporary dissolution of his current marriage. As Heinrich and Hester deepen their knowledge of each other's lives and feelings, their characters manifest themselves more fully as well. Hester, seemingly wary and jaded at the novel's outset, reveals her insecurity, obsession with historical legacy and scorn for her own parents in bits and pieces. Heinrich, at first an offbeat charmer whose idiosyncrasies fascinate Hester, eventually reveals that he is unable to free himself from his suspicious ideological inheritance. Kirshenbaum brings believable complexity to her portrayal of Jewish life in contemporary Munich; at one moment, a group of Croatian soccer enthusiasts resemble militant youth to Hester, while at another, she notices that she gets better service in restaurants when she wears a star of David around her neck. The novel's structure, a mixture of postcards, e-mails and straightforward narrative, is subtly erected and does not obstruct understanding. While Kirshenbaum occasionally portrays characters' passions melodramatically or even tritely, the arc of the lovers' mutual education is complete and convincing. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. Author appearances in New York and Washington, D.C.
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