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The Exiles Return: A Novel Hardcover – January 7, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Readers of Edmund de Waal’s gripping Jewish family history, The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), will remember his brilliant, courageous grandmother, born Elisabeth von Ephrussi (1899–1991). A lawyer steeped in economics and philosophy, Elisabeth wrote poetry and, during the late 1950s, five novels, including this never-before-published, incisive, and tragic tale of bombarded and morally decimated postwar Vienna. In his foreword, Edmund explains that the novel is “profoundly autobiographical,” though Elisabeth cleverly covers her tracks. As the story begins, the paralyzed city is reluctantly repatriating Jewish exiles who fled the Nazis. Professor Kuno Adler returns to his old laboratory, where he confronts a “self-confessed, unrepentant Nazi.” Sent to stay with her aunt in the bucolic Austrian countryside, beautiful and diffident Marie-Theres, the American daughter of an exiled princess, is inextricably drawn into the decadent intrigues of Vienna’s elite. De Waal’s acid, eyewitness drama of malignant prejudice, innocence betrayed, the disintegration of the old order, and love transcendent has the same jolting immediacy as the novels of Iréne Némorisky as well as deeply archetypal dimensions. Another de Waal triumph of illumination. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Elisabeth de Waal has assembled an unusual tableau — evocative and altogether memorable....Here’s hoping that The Exiles Return will now find the American audience that it deserves.”—Erika Dreifus, The Washington Post

“There is a distinctly fin de siècle feel to Elisabeth de Waal's rediscovered novel about Viennese exiles, banished by war, streaming back to their native city in the mid-1950s. The Exiles Return captures the atmosphere of post-World War II Vienna, with its crumbling buildings, decaying aristocracy, mercantile fervor and ideological denial. But its restrained prose style and preoccupation with the gap between public morality and private behavior evoke even more strongly the novels of Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy and other 19th-century masters....The Exiles Return is both an oddity and the bittersweet legacy of a gifted writer, melding the narrative pleasures of fiction with a vivid historical snapshot.”—Chicago Tribune

“The Exiles Return has an immediacy that makes de Waal's readers feel the experiences of its characters in a visceral way....With the publication, after all these years, of The Exiles Return, we are allowed to hear a voice that has not only endured but, by the subtlety and fervor of its free expression, triumphed.”—Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review

The Exiles Return is, in a sense, a reverie about what it meant to return to postwar Vienna; a dream turned nightmare of a family wanting to recoup its wartime losses….The Exiles Return, a novel of five exiles returning home after fleeing Hitler, is a masterpiece of European literature.”—The Buffalo News

“[The Exiles Return] succeeds magnificiently on its own uncompromising terms...And in holding up a uniquely wrought mirror to [de Waal's] Vienna.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“[An] incisive, and tragic tale of bombarded and morally decimated postwar Vienna....De Waal's acid, eyewitness drama of malignant prejudice, innocence betrayed, the disintegration of the old order, and love transcendent has the same jolting immediacy as the novels of Irene Nemirovsky as well as deeply archetypal dimensions.”—Booklist

“Like Irène Némirovsky and Hans Keilson, de Waal bore witness to the tragedy of World War II; as her grandson recounts in his best-selling The Hare with Amber Eyes, their Jewish banking family’s possessions were appropriated by the Germans when they marched in Austria…. Expect poignancy and an indelible sense of the time.”—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (Barbara’s Picks)

“An elegant, unpublished novel…This novel reveals [de Waal’s] intelligence and articulateness as it evokes 1950s Vienna, haunted by the ghosts of its distant and more recent pasts…. Restrained yet incisive, this finely observed novel lacks a resounding conclusion but nevertheless offers European mood music of a particular and beguiling resonance.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a rewarding study of loss, and a fine snapshot of a city and society standing ravaged at a crossroads.”—The Guardian (London)

“[Elisabeth de Waal] captures the fragility of a city trying to rebuild itself on uncertain foundations....It is an important story and now, at last, it has been told.”—The Spectator (London)

The Exiles Return is a novel of great vividness and great tenderness, which at its heart depicts what it might mean to return from exile. Within its pages it reflects a truly ambitious writer and a woman of considerable courage.”—from Edmund de Waal’s Foreword
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250045789
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250045782
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elisabeth de Waal was the grandmother Edmund de Waal, the acclaimed author of "The Hare With the Amber Eyes". She was born in 1899 and was raised in luxury in Vienna, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family. She married into the Dutch de Waal family and was able to flee to safety during the war. A highly educated woman, she wrote five books - unpublished until this one, "The Exiles Return" was found among her papers and put to print after her death.

"The Exiles Return" is the story, set in 1954 in post-war Vienna, of three returnees to the city from various forms of exile. Professor Kuno Adler - a Jewish scientist - had fled the city before WW2 with his family, to the safety of America. His wife and daughters had prospered there but Adler had never felt at home in New York. He returns to Vienna with the promise of reinstatement of his job and responsibility and with the hope of personal renewal. Marie-Theres Larsen, the daughter of a Viennese aristocratic mother and a Danish father, has been sent to live with her Austrian aunts to try to settle herself. She is 18 and is a beautiful but naive young woman. And Theophil Kanakis, a wealthy Greek-Austrian, has returned to Vienna with a lot of money and hopes to build himself a life filled with beauty and wit. The plot - what there is of it - is much less important than the character studies and the city of Vienna, which is as important to the story as those who live there.

The quote in the title of the review is what Professor Adler says to his boss at the scientific institute where he works. The man, Dr Kreiger, has tried to justify his work in concentration camps where he preformed experiments on inmates, all in the name of "science".
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Sue Kichenside on July 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Edmund de Waal is the author of word-of-mouth bestseller, The Hare with Amber Eyes. In his preface to his grandmother Elisabeth de Waal's wonderfully empathetic novel, he writes:

"My grandmother had spent her life in transit between countries: she kept only the things that mattered to her. And these pages did...This untitled novel, now called The Exiles Return, was not published in her lifetime. In conversation with her about why writing matters, she never revealed what this fact meant to her, and it was only recently that I found this single and extraordinary page:

"'Why am I making such a great effort and taxing my own endurance and energy to write this book that no one will read? Why do I have to write? Because I have always written, all my life, and have always striven to do so, and have always faltered on the way and hardly ever succeeded in getting published....What is lacking? I have a feeling for language...But I think I write in a rarified atmosphere. I lack the common touch, it is all too finely distilled. I deal in essences, the taste of which is too subtle to register on the tongue. It is the quintessence of experiences, not the experiences themselves...I distill too much.'"

Mr de Waal continues: "Elisabeth de Waal was Viennese and this is a novel about being Viennese. As such, it is a novel about exile and about return, about the push and pull of love, anger and despair about a place which is part of your identity, but which has also rejected you. The Exiles Return is alive to this complexity and it stands, in part, as a kind of autobiography in its mapping of these emotions...But above all the book is about the heartbreak of returning."

Thank you to Edmund de Waal for his moving preface and to Persephone [in the UK] for publishing this book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
One of the best memoirs I’ve read in recent years is THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES, Edmund de Waal’s masterly account of his forebears, the Ephrussis, a prosperous Jewish banking family that settled in Vienna in the mid-19th century. This novel, THE EXILES RETURN, is by his grandmother Elisabeth; he found the typescript among her papers in 2005. She had tried and failed to get it published and died in 1991 believing, as Edmund reports in his Foreword, that it was “a book that no one will read.”

I trust that Elisabeth is smiling in her grave. It was published in the UK in 2013, the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss (Hitler’s 1938 takeover of Austria). I want to give a shout-out to its British publishers, a marvelous small press called Persephone that, in their words, “reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth-century (mostly women) writers.” In this case they celebrated not a reprise but a debut.

Edmund de Waal calls the novel “profoundly autobiographical. Born into a privileged family, Elisabeth achieved intellectual stature in her own right, studying philosophy, law and economics at the university and writing poetry (she corresponded with Rilke, no less). After the Anschluss, though she had already left Vienna, she returned to save her parents; she went back again after the war to try to get restitution for their shattered lives and looted property. She knew intimately what it was like to confront a ravaged homeland.

The first half of THE EXILES RETURN is taken up with the stories of five expatriates who return to Vienna in 1954. They could not be more different. Professor Kuno Adler is a Jewish scientist who has been living in New York with his unpleasant and successful wife.
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