From Publishers Weekly
Part exile's lament and part psychological study, this brief novel by Bailey (Kitty & Virgil, etc.) explores the complicated, intense relationship between a Romanian lyric tenor and his adoring nephew during the years preceding and following WWII. Andrew Petrescu (later Peters) is seven in 1937 when his father-a Romanian debt collector who marries a woman with Jewish blood-finds the situation in Romania increasingly precarious and sends Andrew to live in England with his superbly talented Uncle Rudolf. Introducing Andrew to his freewheeling artistic world, Rudolf becomes the boy's de facto parent, adviser and mentor. The narrative then flashes back to Rudolf's musical education and his lucrative decision to sing commercially popular operettas, a choice that proves costly on a personal level when Rudolf regrets not pursuing a career in serious opera. As Andrew grows up, he becomes increasingly dependent on his uncle, to the extent that his brief marriage fails and he finds himself living vicariously through Rudolf's successes and failures. Bailey's unflinching depiction of Andrew's obsessive, nearly pathological love for his uncle is alternately moving and disturbing, and his gradual revelation of the fate of Andrew's parents adds an element of suspense to the story. The flamboyance of London theater life contrasts strikingly with the melancholia of exile and the horrors of war as Bailey plays masterfully with chiaroscuro in this moody, unsentimental novel.
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*Starred Review* In February 1937, his father took little Andrei Petrescu from their small Romanian town to Paris, where he put the boy on the first leg of the trip to London. There Rudolf, his father's brother, met him, told him he would henceforth be Andrew Peters, and introduced him to the lifestyle of a wealthy celebrity, for his handsome uncle is a matinee-idol tenor whose forte is that bourgeois middle European theatrical confection, operetta. Andrei is supposedly visiting until his parents call him home, but he never sees them again, and Uncle Rudolf doesn't tell him the whole truth of his situation until he is 18. He grows up in the best circumstances, and Rudolf is devoted to him, but Andrew, though he fathers a son from a marriage that barely outlives the pregnancy, never really leaves the avuncular nest. Moreover, Rudolf thinks himself a failure; he should have sung Mozart and Verdi, not the genre he considers central to the early-twentieth-century's long nationalist nightmare. Seventy and afraid he is becoming senile and incapable of writing Rudolf's biography, Andrew recollects his uncle's and his ever-quieter, intertwined lives. Bailey writes economically, plangently, and with deep cultural penetration, memorably incorporating historic musical figures into Rudolf's story and leaving readers to interpret just what the novel might be saying about anti-Semitism. Ray Olson
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