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The German Money Paperback – September 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Raphael applies his talents as a suspense writer (he is the author of five mystery novels in addition to the short story collection Dancing on Tisha B'Av) to this unconventional Holocaust novel, a family drama about the upheaval caused by a million-dollar legacy of German reparations money. The passive, introspective narrator, Paul Menkus, is a 42-year-old Michigan librarian who travels home to Manhattan after a heart attack claims his mother, Rose, a Holocaust survivor. He's the sole heir of her reparations-based fortune, which brings him into conflict with his younger siblings, underachieving, bisexual Simon and beautiful but difficult Dina, whose marriage is failing. Rose was in good health when she died, and Paul's inquiries into her death provide an element of suspense. The family interactions range from turgid to poignant, but overall Raphael successfully captures the family dynamic. He also adds narrative momentum with a romantic subplot (Paul reunites with old flame Valerie, a Holocaust memoirist who stayed close to the family after the couple's postcollege breakup). But Paul's mother remains an underdeveloped, shadowy figure, and the specifics of her Holocaust experiences are only sketchily outlined in the closing chapters. The climax, which hinges on a revelation delivered by a seemingly sweet elderly neighbor who played a pivotal role in Rose's demise, is rushed and farfetched. [...]
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Paul, the son of Holocaust survivors, painfully admires and resents his icy, critical mother, who has refused to describe her experiences during the war, and when she dies, mother and son have had almost no contact for a decade. So Paul is surprised, and his younger siblings are shocked, when they learn she has left Paul "the German money," reparations paid her years ago. Returning to Manhattan with his brother and sister, Paul tries to discover why he was bequeathed what is now more than a million dollars and, more important, why the details of her death mysteriously conflict. Revisiting old haunts stirs memories of the girlfriend, still single, whom he fled because of her identification with the survivor community. He looks her up, and the reconnection encourages him to face his doubts and fears. A heartfelt departure from Raphael's brittle, clever mysteries (Let's Get Criminal, 1996, et seq.). Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Then, there are the cases like Paul's. His father bore the scars of being orphaned early in his life; his mother was a Holocaust survivor who came to America, married and left her past in Europe. He realizes that they were not the stereotypical Jewish families: "We were anything but lively and outspoken, not a perpetual carnival of conversation at all. Dad could be social and glib, but not with us, never with us. And serious subjects just weren't on our map."
With his sister and brother, Paul grew up in a home ruled by mysteries, subject to his mother's sometimes implacable silences and inexplicable anger. Small wonder he fled the urban jungle of New York City for the wilds of Michigan to escape his past as well. He had hoped he could abandon his Jewish heritage, his fiancé, Valerie, and bury himself in his dead-end job as a university librarian.
But Paul is drawn back to New York City after his mother dies of a heart attack, and he learns that, of his three siblings, he alone would inherit "the German money," the compensation his mother collected and never spent. The amount, nearly a million dollars, creates a split in the family, and Paul -- beset with a form of survivor's guilt -- becomes consumed with learning why he was chosen.
But unlike Nick Hoffman, the college professor turned detective in Lev Raphael's witty and acerbic mystery series, Paul is no investigator. His quest to divine the secret of the German money moves in fits and starts, in between coping with his sister's claims on his inheritance, his father's Alzheimer's and his attempts to rekindle his relationship with Valerie, who, it turns out, has some secrets of her own.
Raphael has written short stories and novels dealing with Jewish, Holocaust and crime, and "The German Money" can be seen as a distillation of all of them. He lets the story unfold slowly, giving the reader time to become acquainted with the characters before reaching deep into the emotional undertow and bring to the surface the tensions that bind and divide a family.
Paul's journey into his past doesn't reveal everything, and Raphael resists tidying all the loose ends, giving "The German Money" a necessary messiness that reminds us that ties of blood and kinship are not keys into the realm of perfect knowledge. Sometimes, we simply have to go on as best we can, and let the secrets be.
I was hooked by the time I finished the sample, although while reading this story of this dysfunctional family, survivor mother, institutionalised non-survivor father and squabbling adult children (it starts with her death and funeral), I still wasn't sure what I "thought of it" for quite a long time, although the writing drew me in more and more with every word.
The struggle was worth it. A book that packs a startling punch, in a subject that has, IMO as 2nd generation has been done to death.
Highly, highly recommended.
Paul, has been almost estranged from his family for years. He moved from New York to Ann Arbor and the fact that he prefers Michigan to New York City is baffling to them. His two siblings have learned to cope in their own way with the bluster of their father and the seeming coldness of their mother, a Holocaust survivor. When Paul returns, shortly after his mother's death, he is astonished to learn that he inherits "the German money", restitution paid to Holocaust victims. He can not understand the motive for this since his mother never touched the money even though it was invested and grew to a tidy sum and certainly never showed him any love or affection.
Haunting and unforgettable, THE GERMAN MONEY is even better than I expected from Raphael, and having read his novel, short stories and JOURNEYS & ARRIVALS, I did expect a lot.