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What Remains Paperback – November 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"There is the landscape you are given and the landscape that you choose." So reflects 55-year-old Karl 16 years after emigrating from England to America in 1948 with his wife, Julia, and two young sons. Alternating narrative perspectives, the prolific Delbanco (Old Scores) brings together the voices of three generations of German Jews, weaving a history of a family's wanderingDtheir search for a hitching post for "the heart's geography." Karl and his elder brother, Gustave, left Hamburg for London when Hitler rose to power; Julia, Karl's wife, is from a wealthy background in Berlin, and had to cut short her studies when Jews were no longer permitted at university. At the war's end, Gustave and his family decide to stay in England, but Julia urges her young family to the leafy suburbs of Larchmont, N.Y., where she envisions more opportunities for her sons, Jacob and Benjamin. The boys recall their childhood in England, the bomb shelters and air raids interspersed in their memories with the trappings of childhood: a mother's powder puff, strawberry jam, milk chocolate obtained with a ration book. Coming of age between two countries and haunted by a third they do not know, the children are given pieces of the German language as their heritage. Here lies the deeper question of identity that haunts these reflective, lyrical narratives. Where is tradition if expatriation has been forced? What is at the heart of family when the threads of history fly loose? Elegiac and subtle, the book feels shadowed by memoir yet it is never obvious or heavy-handed. In these unhurried family tales, the theme of "who we are" will resonate for discriminating readers, especially those who appreciated Delbanco's recent The Lost Suitcase. Booksellers will enjoy recommending this quietly trenchant novel, which features a haunting, green-tinted jacket illustration that's going to lure browsers. 9-city author tour. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Delbanco offers a richly textured portrait of a Jewish family with artistic and intellectual inclinations. The story encompasses several generations: Elsa, the proud and slightly eccentric matriarch; her sons Karl, who takes over the family business when his father dies, and Gustave, who is more interested in art; Karl's wife, Julia; and their little son, Jacob. Forced to leave their comfortable life in Hamburg when Hitler comes to power, they settle first in London. Not long after the war, Karl moves his family again, this time to America, and he sets up a branch of the family business. This is not a novel about plot, but rather a series of vignettes and impressions, unfolding through multiple points of view, from that of the very young to the very old. Most of the impressions are clustered around the years 1944 through 1946, but they weave back and forth through time, the novel becoming a meditation on the themes of fate, memory, exile, change, age, what sustains, and what fulfills. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446677795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446677790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,938,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicholas Delbanco is the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and Chair of the Hopwood Committee. He has published twenty-five books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novels are The Count of Concord and Spring and Fall; his most recent works of non-fiction are The Countess of Stanlein Restored and The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life. As editor he has compiled the work of, among others, John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. The long-term Director of the MFA Program as well as the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, he has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, twice, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The rise of Hitler forced German Jewish brothers Karl and Gustave to relocate their family to London. After the war ended, Karl, at the urging of his spouse Julia moves across the ocean to America where they raise their two children, Benjamin and Jacob. Gustave chose to remain in London.
In 1964, Karl and his family fly to London on a family visit. Benjamin and Jacob recall life as children in London during World War II when Hitler and his air force sent bomb after bomb trying to devastate the English. Benjamin and Jacob also have memories of Germany, but they are through the eyes of their parents, grandparents, and Gustave. However, as second generation Americans they are beginning the assimilation process and though their grandmother wants to return to pre-Hitler Hamburg, Benjamin and Jacob know that Thomas Wolfe is right as they can never go home again.
WHAT REMAINS is a powerful look at national identity especially for those individuals displaced and forced to flee deadly events in their native homeland. The tale works as readers understand the different outlooks of the three generations. Nicholas Delbanco writes a tremendously deep, thought-provoking tale that relies on the characters to unfold their feelings and motives for their lifestyles. The use of flashbacks by the cast to reflect how each one sees the monumental events that shaped their destiny strengthens a book that will send the audience seeking the author's previous tales (see OLD SCORES and IN THE NAME OF MERCY).

Harriet Klausner
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Misha on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is exquisite. The story of a family of German Jews, from little Benjamin ("Mister Blister!") and his older brother Jacob (named after his mother Julia's first love, in itself a bittersweet subplot) to Julia, Gustave, Karl, and Grandmother Emma. Everyone has a chance to provide their own narration, and give us their own flashback, after adult Ben returns to present-day England to visit the frail Gustave for what may be the last time.
But "As I Lay Dying" this ain't - the characters provide more than filler dialogue for the same action, over and over, ad nauseum. Each chapter, each character's narrative, stands on its own as a separate story.
Emma provides, for me, the sweetest and saddest chapters in the book. As with all elderly in almost every society, Emma becomes prone to being overlooked, the walking, talking afterthought in the family; while once the matriarch of this strong family,she now finds herself little more than one of the curios that litter the cabinets. However, we find that she is still as young as her memories allow her to be, and longs for the chance to revisit her now-deceased husband in her mind, on the day they were engaged. In the background, all the while, Karl and Julia and the kids prepare for a voyage to America (it is 1948). Only Ben seems to have a capacity for empathy, which his mother's narrative further confirms.
Not since Salinger's Glass family have I found myself falling in love with a string of stories about a single family.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Cowell VINE VOICE on January 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
One of the most beautiful, delicately written books, not only about German Jews but of longing and of life, both its conclusions and inconclusiveness. I'm a literary novelist and I was so inspired by this work that I began to read it again at once.
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