From Publishers Weekly
The first English-language translation of an opus by Adler (The Journey), Czech writer and Holocaust survivor, opens with the young Josef Kramer, at a "panorama," a rotating display of pictures of exotic places. The novel's structure imitates that of the panorama, each a snapshot of an epoch in Josef's life, from a neurotic childhood to a year in the countryside, then a period in a hellish boarding school. The most biting and amusing sections are Josef as a tutor in a wealthy and dysfunctional family and working at a frenetic "cultural center." Each episode ends with Josef drifting to sleep, trying to create internal order from chaos. War comes and two sections deal with Josef as a forced laborer and his time in concentration camps and his reflecting on his life from self-imposed exile in Britain. Adler's writing is stream-of-consciousness, heavily philosophical, and the style changes as Josef matures. Adler's portrayal of daily life and a young man's existential maturation in the region of Bohemia between the wars is full of satirical and loving detail that turns grim in the Holocaust sections. But the long, clause-heavy sentences feel clunky in translation and make this book more fascinating as a treasure of cultural and literary history than as a purely narrative read. (Jan.)
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A Czech Jew who wrote largely in German and survived both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, Adler is the author of a number of contemplative and variously challenging works of Holocaust witness, including The Journey (1962), which was recently translated into English for the first time. With this novel saturated with autobiography (the author’s phrase), Adler chronicles various moments in the life of protagonist Josef: unhappy childhood in Prague, brutish boarding school, teenage adventures in the bucolic Czech forest, political and bureaucratic frustrations as a young academic, and, finally, hardship and bleakness in a concentration camp. It is written in a captivating stream-of-consciousness style that wanders yet comes to circle certain salient observations, and readers may note stylistic and philosophical continuities between this and the work of W. G. Sebald, who claimed Adler as a major influence. But, in part, the beauty of this work is that it can’t be easily categorized: it’s not quite a bildungsroman; it’s delightfully if erratically satirical; it’s hauntingly bleak yet possesses echoes of the transcendent. This is an important book by an author who deserves not to be forgotten. --Brendan Driscoll
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