Galicia, Austria-Hungary, 1913. In the castle of a frontier town, on the border between Europe and the East, the worldly, corrupt Count-Governor Wiladowski watches helplessly while a wave of assassinations sweeps the empire, and his province. When a member of his own family is murdered, the count gives broad police powers to his spymaster, Jakob Tausk: a brilliant young Jew whose ruthless war on terror extends into every corner of the province and beyond, enlisting union organizers, financiers, aristocrats and ...
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Conspirators: A Novel

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Galicia, Austria-Hungary, 1913. In the castle of a frontier town, on the border between Europe and the East, the worldly, corrupt Count-Governor Wiladowski watches helplessly while a wave of assassinations sweeps the empire, and his province. When a member of his own family is murdered, the count gives broad police powers to his spymaster, Jakob Tausk: a brilliant young Jew whose ruthless war on terror extends into every corner of the province and beyond, enlisting union organizers, financiers, aristocrats and their servants, and a young novelist and playwright, newly arrived in the Vienna of Franz Josef and Freud, hungry for literary success.

In the wake of new terrorist attacks, a mysterious preacher appears in the provincial capital--one of the so-called "wonder rabbis" from the shtetls of the East-trailing a band of fanatical disciples who proclaim him the messiah. Word of the charismatic leader spreads quickly from the Jewish quarter to the castle itself, and soon Tausk finds himself serving two masters: the count and the richest man in the province, Moritz Rotenburg, who has a private interest in the wonder rabbi and whose only son has returned from university, burning for revolution, to gather disciples of his own.

Moving from underground meetings and makeshift synagogues to the bedrooms of country estates and the secret high councils of the ailing thousand-year-old Habsburg Empire, Michael André Bernstein's compelling first novel evokes a densely believable world on the edge of collapse, full of the haunting suggestiveness of a fable or nightmare, and the erotic, mystical, and apocalyptic passions of an age.

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Editorial Reviews

Alan Riding
Bernstein, a literary critic with strong roots in Europe, is evidently in no hurry. He writes in an elegant and deliberately meandering style, as if confident of hypnotizing the reader with his baroque sentences, explorations of neuroses, intricate descriptions of palaces and hovels and astute reflections on money and power, class and race. Conspirators brings to mind books written a century ago, which seems just right for the era it portrays.
The New York Times
The New Yorker
Bernstein’s first novel takes place just before the First World War, on the eastern frontier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Economic hardship and anti-Semitism have provoked unrest in the Jewish population, and Count-Governor Wiladowski, terrified of assassination, hires Jakob Tausk, an ex-rabbinical student, as a spy to protect him. Unbeknownst to him, Tausk is approached by a wealthy Jewish financier who has discovered that his only son is conspiring against the regime, and who worries about the radical influence of a mysterious rabbi with Messianic leanings. It’s perhaps inevitable that an epic conceived in such grandly old-fashioned terms contains some characters and scenes that seem well worn. But, as events rush toward a bloody resolution, Bernstein maintains firm control of his plot, and painstakingly re-creates the historical landscape in which an often reluctant Tausk undertakes his counter-revolutionary mission.
Publishers Weekly
Bernstein strives for the authority of a modernist classic in this complex and serious-minded first novel, which tells how the Jewish and Gentile upper classes of an eastern border town of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are riven by revolutionary passions on the eve of WWI. In 1913, various conspiracies brew to overthrow the current regime, locally represented by fearful and Machiavellian Count-Governor Wiladowski. Wiladowski is morbidly obsessed with the possibility of his own assassination; he hires ex-rabbinical student Jakob Tausk to keep an eye on the Jews under his dominion as a precaution. Meanwhile, wealthy and powerful local financier Moritz Rotenburg teams with Tausk to keep his son Hans out of trouble. It seems the impetuous young heir has been dabbling in radical politics as a means of rebellion against his old man. Moses Elch Brugger, a charismatic rabbi with a fire-and-brimstone messianic message, has also established himself in the area, and Tausk and the elder Rotenburg attempt to penetrate and subvert his flock. When Hans's plotting becomes entangled with Brugger's beguiling fanaticism, it seems the Jewish community-the true hero of the novel-is headed for political disaster. The various political and religious conspiracies come to a head during Passover and Easter weekend, as Wiladowski faces the assassination attempt he's so often dreaded. Bernstein weaves a rich tapestry of Jewish life in the twilight of the Hapsburg empire, though he lingers too lovingly over period details. Similarly, the life-and-death stakes the various characters face lose their urgency in long-winded digression and after-the-fact recounting. Although Bernstein's story never quite shrugs free of its weighty influences, the book is a solid and multifaceted first effort with a sure sense of its time and setting. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bernstein's near-operatic debut opens in 1925, when Alexander Garber, a successful Austrian writer, learns of an old acquaintance's implication in the secret police. He decides to investigate the connection between Jakob Tausk and an incident that happened in his home province in April 1914 (called the Cathedral Square murders) and its five major players. His research takes him back to 1912, with World War I and the end of the Habsburg Empire nearing. Count Wiladowski, counsel-governor of Galicia, is sure someone is planning to assassinate him. He has hired Tausk, a Jew, to be the head of his secret police. Mortiz Rotenburg, a wealthy Jewish businessman, has used his financial success to build his own power base, giving him influence over most of the empire's aristocrats. His son rebels, forming a Marxist cell intent on overthrowing the ruling class. Finally, there is Brugger, a rabbi who preaches violence as a means of hurrying the Messiah's return. As these characters interact, using other people as pawns, tensions mount, culminating in bloody events that change all of their lives. Examining ethnic and class roles, violence and change, and the philosophical/psychological makeup of his characters, Bernstein, a contributor to such publications as the Times Literary Supplement, has created a multileveled literary thriller with implications that reverberate into today's headlines. Highly recommended.-Josh Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fear and suspicion drive the world of a group of Austrians in this dark, trenchant debut. In an extended prologue, set outside Salzburg in 1925, writer Alexander Garber ponders the twilight of the Hapsburg Empire. Particularly fascinating to Garber is the way the characters he then knew were "always completely absorbed in their own activities, oblivious of what their neighbors were doing, even if they are standing a few feet away . . . . " The story then flashes back to 1912 and to the Austrian village of Galicia. Here, Hans Rottenberg, son of wealthy Morris Rottenberg, joins with Asher Blumenthal and other young revolutionaries to form a terror cell that plots the assassination of Count-Governor Wiladowski at noon on Easter in Vienna. His security already threatened by the murder of a cousin, Wiladowski engages wily agent Jacob Tausk to spy on Rottenberg's cell and on the activities of union organizers. Wiladowski is also concerned by the arrival on the scene of a charismatic rabbi who preaches violence and who, his followers believe, may be the Messiah. The rabbi has also drawn the attention of Rottenberg pere, so that he, too, engages Tausk to assess the rabbi's intentions and influence. In a Machiavellian twist, Tausk thus becomes the spy of two masters. But point of view rather than action drives and dominates the narrative as it moves on in wide, sweeping circles that encompass an extended slate of self-absorbed characters. Young Rottenberg eyes clumsy compatriot Blumenthal with condescension. Wiladowski muses over his wife's distaste for Tausk. And Tausk negotiates the delicate role-and power-of a double agent. Ego and gunpowder combust in the strongly written assassination scene.Heavy going at times, but never ponderous. Bernstein's point of view is arresting, and his elaborate stylistic flourishes befit the era he describes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429928465
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 1,235,627
  • File size: 597 KB

Meet the Author

Michael André Bernstein was raised and educated in Europe, Canada, and the United States. He is a frequent contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and The New Republic.

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Read an Excerpt

PART ONEDecember 19121That year the snow seemed to have begun much earlier than usual. By December, at any rate, normal life in the town was grinding to a complete halt. Fuel was running low, and wood and coal were becoming impossibly expensive, especially for the poorer workers, whose ranks had kept increasing during the past five years until it looked as though soon no one would be left to tend the surrounding farms. Even when the factories stopped taking on new laborers and began to let go those they had recently hired, it was as though all these new arrivals were too stunned by their misery to remember the way back to their villages. One often came across whole families huddling for shelter by the walls of the quays alongside the river, and every day the papers reported another body found dead there of exposure. Throughout the town the water pipes were repeatedly frozen solid, and even among the more prosperous, elaborate schemes were worked out in case it became impossible to take a hot bath or do the household washing. Almost everyone who worked in one of the offices in the business district ate in the nearby restaurants as often as possible. Although they were expensive compared with cooking at home, there was usually a well-stoked fire in one corner, and the crowded tables encouraged a constantly reanimated sociability, no matter how isolating the weather outside. But everyone’s nerves were growing frayed, and several long-standing friendships and love affairs revealed themselves as dangerously ragged and at risk of collapsing from the weight of the winter.It must have been two weeks or so before the Christmas holidays, when Asher Blumenthal, twenty-eight years old and still only a junior accountant at the Sobieski Import-Export Company, left his office early one afternoon, hoping to be able to catch a tram and avoid the long walk home. But once again most of the wagons were frozen on the tracks, and the idea of trudging on foot all the way across the Nepomuk Bridge to his somber flat in the Josef Quarter was too demoralizing. He had wanted to avoid going to the Mendelssohn Club for a few days, but the chance to warm himself free of charge beside the massive old tile oven in the center of the reading room, of seeing the familiar green lamp shades running the length of the rear walls behind the comfortably worn leather chairs, and the certainty of hearing at least a few familiar voices proved irresistible. Asher usually left the club overstimulated, drained and excited at the same time, angry at the fluency of the talkers and even more annoyed at himself for not having the will to interrupt them and show everybody how ridiculous he thought their pronouncements were. The richer their families, the more passionately the club’s younger members made a point of insisting on their readiness to leap at any change that would bring about a completely new kind of existence. At one time or another nearly every one of them stood up at the after-dinner meetings and testified to longing for some great, all-transforming crisis, a moment of truth, whether for good or evil, that would smash through the suffocating trivia of their daily routines like a whirlwind. The phrasing would change from time to time, but it always resonated with some equally sonorous and thoroughly conventional flourish.Asher himself was skeptical about the innumerable programs drawn up for the common betterment. Pretending to know what would help others when his own life felt so thwarted struck him as absurd. But occasionally being present for those exhausting all-night sessions, with their furious exchange of pamphlets with similar clubs in Odessa and Warsaw and their increasingly grandiose plans for redeeming the Jewish people, made even Asher feel somehow significant. For a few hours he tried to make himself ignore the obvious fact that he was listening to a dozen contradictory hopes, all incoherently jumbled together and all of them, really, no more than confused versions of a single complaint: “None of us has ever felt fully alive in our homes or our country. What are we really risking by walking away from something as desolate as the lives our parents and teachers have already planned out for us? We all know how spiritually deadening their values are and how far their expectations are from touching our core. If we first have the courage to change ourselves, we will see how quickly the world will be changed along with us!” Then the cigarettes and pipes would be lit up again, another furious round of debates would start, someone would call out for drinks or for a vote on the latest motion, and before everyone went home for the night, a collection would be taken up to subscribe to another new journal or help send a delegation to a similar meeting in some other town. While people were finishing their last cigarettes, there was the inevitable, protracted struggle over who would have the final word, until the whole affair dissipated, without a clear victor, into a series of irritable farewells. But just underneath all that excitement and breathlessness there was really a calming stupor, as though one had learned to doze quite pleasantly inside while shouting out objections at everyone else. In spite of the deafening volume at which most conversation was conducted, such evenings somehow also felt reassuringly tranquil.“Argumentative Jews! I am sick of their interminable discussions” is what Asher usually muttered to himself on his way home, much too late and with nothing to show for the hours spent in such company. “Well,” he concluded as he set out down the Mariahilferstrasse toward the Mendelssohn Club, “tonight it’s better to be an argumentative Jew than a frozen one.” In this part of the town all the streetlamps were still functioning, and although there was too much snow for the work crews sent from the prison to keep the sidewalks clear, at least the government made sure the convicts salted the pavement here several times a day. Even though he feared it made him look like a peasant, Asher now always wore an enormous, old-fashioned winter cloak of heavy boiled wool with horn buttons that he had found in a pawnshop in the Josef Quarter. It was much warmer than anything else he could afford, and as he trudged along, his whole body bent forward against the evening wind, he enjoyed the taste of the slightly damp wool collar that he would catch himself reaching down to suck into his mouth. Asher detested the name of the club, chosen by the founding committee about twenty-five years ago in honor of the no doubt eminent but to him completely unendurable Moses Mendelssohn. Asher’s father, the community’s well-known autodidact, freethinker, and bankrupt Eliezer Blumenthal, had admired Mendelssohn tremendously and used to read out to his children, as his version of an enlightened Sabbath text, page after page of Mendelssohn’s boring platitudes about fundamental human goodness and the universal ethical significance of Judaism. “As if any of us children cared about such big words when all we wanted was to be allowed to go outside and play with the other kids,” Asher used to complain to his school friend Alexander Garber a few years later, when they were teenagers and walked home together after classes. What Asher found especially amusing is that to almost everyone in town, including probably a large percentage of its Jews, the name Mendelssohn evoked only the philosopher’s grandson, the celebrated composer and conductor and, most delicious of all, notorious apostate to Christianity. Whenever he said he was going to the club after dinner, Asher’s colleagues from work assumed there was a rehearsal in progress and asked him when he would be putting on a public concert. “Actually,” Asher used to tell his prying landlady, “I wish someone would try to organize a musical evening using the club membership. What a splendidly horrific racket that would create.”But both Blumenthals, Eliezer and Asher, found it impossible not to admire the elegance of the club’s high-columned entrance, and when Asher was still a boy, they would take a walk together across town just for the joy of standing in front of it, filled with wonder that so fine a place was at the disposal of Jews like them. At such moments Eliezer would sigh contentedly and tell his son how fortunate they were to be subjects of an Emperor like Franz Josef. The whole building was expressly designed to look impressive, erected near the town center by the Allianz Insurance Company before the mania for making everything resemble a reform school or military barracks had become a sign of advanced taste. When the insurance company needed to expand to a still-larger building during one of the intense, but usually short-lived, bursts of optimistic energy to which all of the Empire’s different strata seemed subject in an irregular cycle of alternating enthusiasm and apathy, the original headquarters was taken over on a long-term lease, guaranteed by some of the wealthier Jews, and converted to a private club. Since none of the other social clubs admitted Jews, the lack of a fitting place of their own had long been a source of vexation among the community leaders, and the unexpected availability of one of the most attractive edifices in the whole province was interpreted as further proof of the special favor with which their existence was being watched over by the highest powers. In the last few years, though, what had once been fairly predictable cycles of expansiveness and contraction had become increasingly erratic, and everyone had lost track of when another good phase was due. That winter moods previously existing in strict alternation seemed to converge: Total, bone-aching weariness merged into the certainty that something wonderful would break through the exhaustion if only one didn’t give in to despair. The most contradictory emotions coexisted and expressed themselves in a jittery, nervous hum, audible like a second, subterranean motif beneath otherwise monotone, predictable conversations.Since the streets were almost empty, and the falling snowflakes made it impossible to see more than a few footsteps ahead, there was nothing to distract Asher on his walk, and he found himself unable to stop his mind trotting like a well-trained Lipizzaner horse through the familiar routine of its obsessions. Mostly, when he didn’t worry about his duties at the office, especially the interminable paperwork involved in importing bars of cheap soap through Trieste from Cosini and Sons, he thought how he was unlikely ever to find a regular mistress, let alone a wife, or to learn Hebrew, or even to get his landlady to starch his shirts properly so that he needn’t fret about showing up at work in the morning looking unkempt and slovenly. Although he occasionally succeeded in going out with one of the women from the club for an afternoon coffee, the few whom he had dared approach didn’t encourage him to keep after them, and he linked their rebuff to the state of his collar and his ignorance of Hebrew. He was sure that if only he could dress properly, he could make an impression with his elegance; conversely, if he knew Hebrew, he could show his scorn of trivialities like fashionable clothes and turn the conversation to stirring issues like the cultivation of wine in the Galilee and the possibility of obtaining a charter from the Turkish authorities for more Jewish settlements. Lacking both, he tended to linger around the edges of discussions, hoping that someone would notice what he took to be an ironic gaze and the suggestion of a superior smile. If neither of these approaches seemed to be working, he found himself switching to the wish that maybe one of the more sensible women would decide that his mediocre but steady salary and guaranteed pension were, in the long run, more attractive than the wild dreams and empty wallets of the club’s big talkers.In fact Asher had worked at learning Hebrew off and on for several years without much success. Years later, when Alexander asked him to look back on that period, he tried to explain how frustrating the whole experience had been. “I could put up with the bizarre idea of reading and writing from right to left,” he wrote, “and even with the strangely shaped letters, but a language that was printed without vowels so that until you already knew a word you couldn’t possibly decipher it on the page, or even look it up in a dictionary, just seemed perverse to me. Even today, here in Haifa, it still does. But back then the very unfamiliarity of the language attracted me as much as it stopped me from making much progress. It’s not that I thought of it as a Holy Tongue or the language of Creation or anything remotely similar. I have always had a healthy contempt for mystical claptrap of any kind—ours as much as the goyim’s. That’s probably the one useful legacy my father passed on to his children. But maybe for no better reason than because they were so obviously archaic, the individual letters seemed charged with mystery. More than anything else, I think it was the abstract idea of Hebrew, not the actual language, that intrigued me. After the club arranged for classes to be offered three nights a week, I would find myself occasionally enrolling for a while, then losing interest, and so always having to begin again several months later not much further advanced than where I had begun the very first time. When I wanted to ask for a cup of coffee with sugar, I realized I no longer knew, or perhaps had never learned, the word for ‘cup,’ ‘saucer,’ ‘pour,’ and ‘spoon’ and so was left saying something like ‘Take that and do that and bring me that and I’ll drink it.’ In any case, that was also a time when some loudmouth could be heard on every street corner of the Empire screaming out the merits of his particular racial dialect. I often thought my interest in Hebrew was only contributing to an already unhealthy tribalism and was ready to forgive my laziness accordingly. The newspapers reported that agitators had begun stirring up people to refuse to speak German altogether. Everyone was now supposed to communicate only in whatever outlandish tongue he imagined his ancestors had babbled before they’d started enjoying the privileges of Austrian civilization. How would they ever conceive of something as indispensable as life insurance and pensions, or the plot of a sophisticated comedy like yours, in dialects that never needed to express ideas more complicated than sheep farming or distilling grain alcohol? Listening to some of these polemics, I couldn’t help contrasting the neat and regular German that we all had learned since birth, so useful for everything from business letters and engineering patents to Schiller’s poems and debates in Parliament, with the impossible combination of consonants in the various Slavic languages one was forced to put up with more and more, not only on the streets but even in respectable business concerns like Sobieski’s. I wasn’t convinced that one should make an exception for Hebrew, which I’d scarcely ever heard spoken. The only real instances were a few half-understood phrases mumbled during prayers on the infrequent occasions, usually High Holidays, when my father decided to supplement our dosage of Mendelssohn’s ethical writings with a visit to the synagogue. To these, I could now add the experience of a half dozen slogans, pronounced with what I thought was annoyingly excessive self-congratulation, by some Zionist speakers who had come to address the club about the moral virtues of swamp drainage and orange farming in Eretz Yisrael. Neither kind of encounter did much to further my zeal as a Hebraist. I do remember that for a while I debated if it might not be strategically advantageous to become an impassioned advocate of Jewish self-determination. Women seemed to find that sort of man very attractive, and I thought that if I could sound sufficiently fiery about an ideal, maybe some of that enthusiasm would transfer directly to me. After all, the arid wasteland of my sex life could have done with reclaiming just as much as the deserts of Palestine, and indisputably, it was a lot closer at hand. Besides, a reputation as a man of deep principles who also happened to have mastered the most advanced accounting techniques might have encouraged one of the businessmen in the club to offer me a better job than the wretched position I had with Sobieski, where I worked for insultingly low wages and with no chance for a meaningful promotion.”The daydreams of success that tormented Asher and prompted him to put in appearances at the Mendelssohn Club more regularly than he wanted to remember were starting to seem even more implausible than usual that winter evening. By the time he passed through the club’s imposing front doors, there was already a long row of coats and galoshes in the hallway closet. Asher saw right away that he would have trouble finding a free hook and was anxious that some oaf would walk out with his galoshes and leave his own behind instead. Which of course were bound to be too small. But he also realized that his exasperation had little to do with these petty annoyances and was so vexed at himself for being vexed that he nearly gathered his things together and left again. But after standing for several minutes in the vestibule, blankly staring at the puddles forming on the tiles at his feet, wrapping and unwrapping his scarf from his throat a half dozen times, he decided that an hour or two of company might help dissipate his sour mood. So, trying to clear his expression of its look of irritation, he went ahead into the main salon.Once inside, he was surprised by how remarkably little was needed to raise his spirits and stop fretting about the galoshes. Nothing more than an unlimited quantity of free tea and a table piled high with sandwiches and damson plum tarts. Wonderfully hot black tea poured into tall glasses with lemon and three cubes of sugar, and delicious plum jam stuffed inside a little swollen bosom of pastry, all laid out in large quantities for anybody who happened to wander into the paneled dining room, although as far as Asher remembered, it was neither anyone’s birthday nor an official state occasion. Asher planted himself as close as possible to the tile stove and felt its heat penetrate his frozen clothes, very slowly at first, then, with increasing intensity, until wearing the double-knit sweater he had put on before leaving the office became uncomfortable. Only after his third cup of tea, when he felt so appeased that the only thing missing to complete his sense of physical well-being was a glass or two of plum brandy, did he think of asking a casual acquaintance standing nearby, who, he was relieved to observe, seemed to be eating and drinking everything within reach even more greedily than he was doing, “To whose generosity do we owe this Nebuchadnezzarine treat?”“Don’t you remember?” Fischbein answered him with his mouth still stuffed with pastry, “Moritz Rotenburg’s son returned from his studies in Switzerland and London a few weeks ago, and his father is so happy at having him home again that he wants to celebrate the occasion as publicly as possible.”“Well, I suppose that means he finally has found something for Hans to do. If he goes to work for his father, there’ll be no more days spent loitering in the elegant stores on the great boulevards of Europe ordering the salesgirls around” was Asher’s dismissive reply. Privately he couldn’t stop himself from imagining a whole sequence of thrilling pictures of what young Rotenburg did with those fawning salesgirls after the store closed for the night. Yet even to himself his attempt at sarcasm sounded forced. To be jealous of a family as wealthy as the Rotenburgs struck Asher as perfectly normal, part of what everyone there surely felt. His own presence in the club, like Fischbein’s, was an act of Rotenburg charity, since Moritz paid the membership dues for some of the poorer Jews from respectable families—two categories that certainly fitted the Blumenthals—and Asher felt the natural resentment of any debtor who knows not only that he will never be able to repay his obligation but that to his creditor the sum involved is too trivial to notice. But along with envy, he sensed in himself a sudden, embarrassing rush of excitement, strong enough to leave him short of breath, at the prospect of actually meeting, and on such intimate terms, the sole heir to one of the largest fortunes in the Empire. Asher couldn’t help being mesmerized by the thought of Rotenburg’s money and felt sufficiently humiliated by his own awe to suppress any trace of it in his banter with Fischbein. He suddenly recalled one of his father’s annoying old proverbs, “The only thing a man gets from rubbing shoulders with the rich is holes in his jacket,” and as a kind of homage to a man whose advice he normally thought not even worth mocking, Asher swore that if Hans ever invited him over to the famous Rotenburg townhouse, he would put on the most worn jacket he owned, the one in which he had taken his accounting exam and which was too ragged to wear to work. With so many patches all over it, even Rotenburg’s gold was unlikely to add another hole to this garment, no matter how much Asher might rub up against the Jewish stock market princeling.But if such an invitation were ever going to be extended, it would have to come on a different evening. Although one Rotenburg had provided the means, and the other the reason, for the fête, neither bothered to show up in person. Asher was not the only member to take their absence as a personal insult, and he wandered up and down the stairs exchanging malicious stories about the financier’s excessive attachment to his son. He glanced into the different rooms in case someone he knew might be heading home in the same direction and felt like stopping in at one of the many taverns along the way. Downstairs in the dining room, when it became clear that no one wanted any more refreshments, the table was cleared by the fat Slovene maid, whose large bosom and waist promised a hearty cheerfulness that clashed disconcertingly with her calculating, unpersuaded eyes. Gradually the white Meissen stove, its beehive-shaped tiles still radiating heat outward, the lateness of the hour, and the continuous, thickly falling snow outside spread a pleasant torpor through everyone who hadn’t already left. Even Asher, who’d been unsuccessful in his search for a late-night drinking companion and had temporarily settled down in the reading room, grew less committed to brooding about Hans Rotenburg’s snub and became engrossed in the latest number of The New Order, a Viennese journal to which he had persuaded the club librarian to subscribe.The mood toward Hans was considerably less forgiving in the ornate private suite, looking directly on to the Radetzkyplatz, that had originally served the president of the insurance company as his personal office and now was used by the Mendelssohn Club’s Governing Board as its meeting room. Many of the senior members had given up waiting for Hans even before Nicholas, the English butler Moritz Rotenburg had brought back from a business trip a decade ago, arrived with a note conveying Rotenburg’s perfunctory apologies for himself and his son. Those who still remained, though, were furious, not simply at having been stood up by a mere boy of twenty-three but still more at the knowledge that they were helpless to do anything about it. To men like Rudi Pichler and Gerhard Himmelfarb, who depended on Rotenburg for their livelihood, Hans’s rudeness amounted to a calculated provocation, intended to show everyone his indifference to their opinions. Although it was nearly impossible to see anything out the window except the dimly flickering lights of the Metropole Restaurant across the square, Pichler continued to stand with his face against the glass pane, idly watching the snow shroud the large equestrian statue of Prince Frederick von Schwarzenberg that had been erected half a century earlier. Even Pichler’s daughter had become infatuated with Hans, and Rudi feared that this latest bit of insolence was only going to add to his prestige in her eyes. It seemed that the less Hans let himself be seen, the more everyone talked about him. During his fifteen months abroad Hans had become one of those legendary figures without an actual legend. Already before his return contradictory rumors about him were circulating through the town, extending, it was said, from the leaders of the Jewish community to the Count-Governor’s own desk. It was taken for granted that Hans, as the future possessor of one of the country’s largest private fortunes, would be watched closely by the authorities, and since an important career in the government or the military was closed to him as a Jew, the Political Section of the Foreign Ministry kept him under regular, if delicate, surveillance wherever he traveled. Very little that he said or did was not recorded somewhere in a secret police dossier. His presence at gatherings of political exiles in Zurich and London was carefully noted, and there was talk of summoning him to the consulate and threatening to take away his passport. But since he barely said anything at these rallies, where, in any case, at least half the participants were paid agents of the Russian, German, and Austrian governments, it was decided there was no immediate need for official action. In any case, Hans spent considerably more time accumulating a string of expensive mistresses and apprenticing himself to the heads of some of the large foreign concerns with whom the Rotenburgs did business than he did associating with known revolutionaries. The experts in Vienna were baffled by what to make of him. Opinion was divided as to whether Hans was a spoiled womanizer, posing as a revolutionary to add a different sort of glamour to the already potent appeal of his wealth and good looks, or a cunning political conspirator hiding behind the mask of a carefree seducer. There was of course the further possibility that he was simply acting as his father’s emissary, accumulating useful information for the old man’s increasingly far-flung business dealings. Since Hans had been known as a passionate Zionist back in his high school days, when several of his teachers secretly reported him to the government for exhibiting “the divided loyalties typical of his race,” some elements in the Ministry continued to regard him as a potentially important figure in the outlandish Jewish fantasy of leading the Hebrew people back to their Promised Land. That entire project alternately baffled and annoyed specialists at the Foreign Ministry who never knew how seriously to take it, but since it was not practical to quash the movement out of hand, a way had to be found to make these daydreams serve the Empire’s interests. Given the natural rivalry among the army, the Interior Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry, each suspected Hans might end up in the secret employ of the other. The immediate result of all this high-level speculation was a joint decision by the various departments not to interfere, at least for the moment, with Hans’s activities, no matter how provocative they might appear. In jail Hans would be of no further use to anyone, but if he believed himself unobserved, he would undoubtedly end up giving away whose interests he was really serving. So perhaps the rumor that Hans had been approached by someone important in connection with the question of a Jewish homeland, or possibly with the promise of a small diplomatic posting in a setting where his race and undistinguished lineage would not constitute an insuperable barrier, had been started by the government itself to discredit him in advance should he later prove more troublesome than anyone had foreseen. More likely, though, no such approach had ever taken place, but once it had entered the eddies of the town’s gossip, it became part of Hans’s legend, the very multiplicity of stories in which he figured giving him an importance in the minds of his fellow townspeople that went far beyond anything he had actually done.Hans had heard a few of these contradictory accounts about himself and found them all equally irritating. Unlike his father, he didn’t yet realize the usefulness of having mutually exclusive versions of oneself widely disseminated. To secure greater flexibility for his own actions by manipulating discrepancies in the ways others saw him struck Hans as a needless acknowledgment of weakness. He was certain that success came only from the greatest possible audacity. Months before he left on his travels, he had grown disgusted by the passivity of the Mendelssohn Club’s talkers—“samovar Zionists” is what he called them—and stopped attending their interminable debates, even when Elisabeth Demetz urged him to continue accompanying her. More speeches, he told her, no longer interested him, unless he could be convinced they would lead to direct action. The argument between them erupted with still more sharpness than usual on a muggy July night a few weeks after she had decided to adopt the name Batya as a pledge of her intention to emigrate to Palestine. She had gone directly from her Hebrew class at the club to visit Hans in the upstairs suite of rooms at the Rotenburg villa that he had converted into a self-contained apartment, separated from the rest of the house. Even as they quickly fell into their by now unhappily familiar litany of reproaches, Batya couldn’t help thinking how bitter it was to be quarreling in a room that she herself had been responsible for furnishing. She remembered ordering the dark blue couch with the pattern of soft gold stars on which they were now sitting, as well as her delight when it finally arrived from Prague. In spite of his widespread reputation as a seducer of salesgirls, Hans scarcely ever shopped for himself, and he was glad to entrust all the decisions about his apartment to Batya. A bowl of fruit and a crystal pitcher full of cold water, sparkling with condensation, lay on a gilded tray next to the sofa. Behind them a bottle of white wine stood upright in a graceful terra-cotta holder. The wine holder had been her birthday present to Hans last year, and Batya wasn’t sure if his placing it there was a subtle peace offering or if he had simply forgotten she had given it to him. The temperature had barely dropped since midday, and Batya was glad to sit quietly for a few minutes, pressing her glass of wine against her forehead, but Hans had obviously been waiting for her arrival all evening and was eager to plunge directly into his stored-up grievances. At such moments the contrast between the aggressive harshness of his tone and the natural delicacy of his features made his anger all the more disconcerting. Hans strongly resembled his dead mother, although in him Dina’s features seemed more angular and assertive, perhaps as a function of his temperament tensing the lines and curves that otherwise would betray more softness than he could permit anyone to glimpse. The two or three times that Moritz had seen Hans asleep as an adult—once when he went into Hans’s rooms late one afternoon only to find him napping on top of his bed, completely clothed, including his shoes, and a few times by the fire, in winter, with his arms folded over a stack of papers that were slowly slipping down from his chest—this most self-contained of men felt his heart ache with grief at how fully Hans’s resemblance to his mother had surfaced. To Moritz it seemed that Dina’s delicate shyness had been momentarily released in a youthful male face, freed of waking consciousness. Hans’s pale brown eyes were framed by wide, softly arcing brows, and Batya often thought that if he had been governed by a different, more inward temperament, Hans could easily have cultivated the look of one of the famous portraits of a musician or writer from the beginning of the last century. She must once have been foolish enough to tell him so, since he now went out of his way to show his indifference to anything connected to the arts. He seemed to enjoy framing his arguments in the crassest, most vulgar terms imaginable, and that night he had found a particularly galling comparison to punish her for having made him wait for so long while she stayed talking to her friends at the club.“Our politics”—he started in even before Batya put down her wine—“ought to be no more tolerant of failure than my father’s businesses. There’s nothing noble or romantic about incompetence, and I don’t see why I should sit patiently and listen to people’s political fantasies when I wouldn’t trust any of them to manage a corner tobacco store. But even if that crowd of daydreamers at the club manages to get a few people into Palestine, the idea of remaking the place into a second Galicia, with its own little Mendelssohn Club in every town, is pretty unappealing. Not when there is so much that needs doing right here. Besides, think about whom you’d be emigrating with. A half dozen of those sad-looking clerks my father subsidizes, who walk around the club staring at the women with their wet, pleading eyes and those ridiculously affected smirks? They’ve all got the kind of defeated look you can’t stand, and I don’t believe a few months dressed up as Arabs will change that. Don’t you remember what you said to me after the Succoth dance two years ago? I haven’t forgotten a word of it at any rate. You came over to where I was standing alone in the garden, and you put your arms around my neck, half laughing and half furious, and began talking so loudly people couldn’t help staring at us, although we both pretended not to notice. ‘Tell me, Hans,’ you said in your best mock-quizzical tone, ‘why do so many of the young men in this town wear glasses and dress so badly? At least you can see straight without spectacles on your nose, so maybe I will go home with you later on after all. How many centuries of servility do you think it took to produce a face like that fellow’s over there? Just imagine what a picture he would make naked, with those long, hairy arms and his cock all droopy and awkward! I am so tired of all that melancholy and introspection. Oversensitive coffeehouse souls ready to run home in terror the moment someone on the street raises his voice to them.’ But just a month later, Batya, you suddenly wanted me to start combing my hair to look more like some delicate Romantic poet myself. To me, all these commitments of yours seem like so much playacting. It’s as though you are trying on one costume after another to see which one you look best in, and I just can’t take it all as seriously as you’d like me to.”At the beginning Batya listened carefully while Hans was berating her, but as he went on, she felt her attention start to drift, and she began looking around the room, prompted by both her fatigue and the sense that it would be the last time she would be there as his girlfriend. Although the room was full of rare curios, gathered from other parts of the house, her eyes lingered on the trinkets she had most enjoyed giving him, especially the small tiger’s-eye cigarette holder on his desk and the dark bentwood music stand that he never used, and she suddenly felt immensely tired and eager to get back to her own home and bed. Behind the meanspiritedness of his words, Batya heard how strongly Hans felt he needed to distance himself from her, and she was convinced of the futility of trying to argue him out of his decision. There was a great deal she could answer, much of which ran through her mind as he was talking, but the impulse to prolong their quarrel and prove herself in the right dissipated as the uselessness of the effort became clear to her. Yes, of course, she had said a lot of foolish things the night of the dance, and whether or not anyone really had overheard her—something she was much less certain of than Hans now claimed—she felt ashamed at her cruelty. It was the first time she had ever drunk that much champagne, and the excitement of the evening, the hours spent dancing to a Gypsy orchestra that had been specially hired over the objections of the more conservative club members, and the knowledge that Hans Rotenburg, whom every girl in town wanted, was in love with her had made her as giddy as a fourteen-year-old. When she rushed out to him in the garden, she was really only trying to let him feel some of her own exhilaration while still sounding like one of the brazen, experienced women she loved to read about. None of that excused what she had said, but it was unjust of Hans to use it to brush aside everything she believed in. It was also dishonest. What about everything else she told him in the garden? With his wonderful memory, leaving the rest out could only be deliberate. She might have been tipsy that night, but not so much that she could forget his strange look when she blurted out that all those dejected faces inside only strengthened her conviction that “what we need now are Jewish farmers and laborers, not more lawyers, rabbis, and clerks! I know the next generation is going to look and act completely different, and I want to be a part of that transformation, not just stay here and make a suitable marriage!”Hans had finally stopped his accusations, and his face was set in an expression she recognized but never expected to encounter when they were alone together: It was stubborn and hard and looked out at whoever had displeased him as though the person were being dismissed from his mind like an unsatisfactory subordinate whose presence had become tedious. But then, as she was gathering her things together, angry and humiliated, Batya suddenly remembered Hans’s fury years ago, when he defended poor little Sandor the time the other schoolboys attacked him after class and threw his homework into the snow. And how everyone in the school had gasped at the insolence with which Hans had answered back when that pompous fool of a history teacher made his joke about Jewish war profiteers selling defective rifles to the army. No matter what he now seemed to believe, it was those moments, not the Rotenburg name, that had made her fall in love with him and dream about the two of them going together as delegates to a Zionist convention, helping each other with their speeches, openly sharing a room, both on fire with the excitement of being together as partners in a cause that was entirely their own. She had just enough self-restraint not to remind Hans of those images. Whatever they might have meant to her, to Hans, anything she said about them now would seem only like further playacting. She even agreed with him in part and knew better than he how much she enjoyed her own changeable enthusiasms because of the optimism and energy they brought her. But unlike Hans, for whom passing judgment seemed to have become a pleasure in itself, Batya was naturally ready to be forgiving of whatever made one feel life more joyously. She understood, as well, that none of this had made Hans stop caring for her. He no longer found it pleasurable to be with her, and all the rest was merely an elaboration of that fundamental change in his own feeling. One can defend oneself against almost any charge, but not against having ceased to be desirable. Hans might scorn her theatricality, but nothing that whole dismal evening was more transparently staged than the way she let him help her on with her coat, accompany her down the wide, curving staircase to the front door, and exchange farewells in as nearly normal a tone as possible. It was all polite and ghastly like a scene in some mediocre play, and only when Batya was by herself again, with the door to her room locked and her clothes carefully hung up in the wardrobe, did she throw herself down in the chair by her bed and sob uncontrollably until she fell asleep.When Hans was back upstairs and realized that Batya was actually gone without the last-minute restatements and reconciliations that had marked all their earlier quarrels, he felt momentarily startled, then relieved, as though surprised at having attained a goal of which he was only obliquely aware when Batya had come over that evening. Until that moment he hadn’t made up his mind whether or not to take his father’s suggestion and go study abroad, but he was certain now that he needed to get away from this house and town if he was ever going to be more than simply Moritz Rotenburg’s son. Breaking with Batya was just as necessary, although he knew that she didn’t perceive him the way the others did. But her need to see both of them as part of a story in which he no longer believed felt impossibly constraining. Unlike the heroes of Dostoevsky’s novels, which she had raced through in sleepless nights of wonder and admiration, and in which she kept finding what seemed to Hans wildly implausible parallels to their own love affair, he never thought of himself as an anguished seeker after some higher spiritual truth. On the contrary, he was drawn to the kind of aloof sangfroid he conceived of as the antithesis to her Romantic hysteria, which he despised but to which he imagined himself overly susceptible. Like many instinctively calculating people, Hans needed to see himself as so easily overwrought that he had to exercise the strictest control over his own emotions.It was to protect himself from his own supposedly excessive sensibility that he avoided being alone with Batya in the months before he left for England. In addition to the preparations required for so long a journey and the distraction of a brief, lifeless affair with Sophie Pichler, Hans spent part of each week with various senior assistants in his father’s office, learning some of the fundamentals involved in managing the Rotenburg enterprises. When two of his best friends, Ernst von Alpsbach and Christoph von Hradl, with whom Hans had formed a reading group that had progressed from studying older Marxist texts to acquiring an extensive collection of underground revolutionary pamphlets, tried to tease Hans about dividing his time between observing enormous sums of money being made and reading about ways to abolish private property altogether, Hans bristled with annoyance. He insisted that if they bothered to learn anything about the modern world, they would soon realize there was nothing in the least contradictory between his two activities: “I am sure that for aristocrats like you two, whose family money comes from your estates, the principles of modern, rational social organization are deeply alien. That’s where being a Rotenburg gives me such an advantage. It has nothing to do with the fact that my father may be richer than yours; it’s just that his success depends on being in tune with constantly mutating, implacable economic forces. There is simply no room for sentiment or nostalgia either on the bourse or in a political movement that is serious about seizing power. Everything connected with the work has to be ruthlessly logical and efficient, no matter what gets sacrificed in the process. Marx and my father would probably understand each other pretty well, at least as far as agreeing where real power comes from these days. I have certainly learned more about what it takes to run an organization from working in his offices these past months than I did from any of our debates.”They went on arguing like this the rest of a glorious autumn afternoon, walking together under the double column of ancient walnut trees for which Weidenau, the von Hradl country estate, was famous. From far away the voices of the harvesters reached their ears, and the glass panes of the summerhouse, where Christoph’s mother was busy tending her exotic flowers, glowed red and gold in the late sun, as though the light itself had transformed them into the beveled windows of an old village church. If it occurred to either Ernst or Christoph that Hans’s presence there as their friend, not to mention their patience letting him lecture them in his sardonic, insistent way, was proof that the Empire’s old families weren’t all as sclerotic as he claimed, they gave no hint. No Jew would have dared talk to one of their grandparents in such a tone, and Philip von Hradl, Christoph’s father, whose debts gave him ample grounds for wanting to stay on good terms with the Rotenburgs, was clearly uncomfortable at the intimacy between his boy and Moritz’s. But even the Emperor himself was starting to make such adjustments, and with more humor than one usually attributed to him. According to Count-Governor Wiladowski, who was in Vienna at the time, Franz Josef had been asked to approve the appointment to an important church post of a new bishop named Cohn, and when he saw the name, he merely turned to his aide-de-camp, Count Trautmannsdorff, and in no particular tone inquired, “Is he at least baptized?” Though they would never put it this way, Christoph and Ernst admired Hans for many of the same reasons Batya did, and they were willing to tolerate his not always agreeable sharp irony unleavened by any sense of humor because they thought that he was more serious than they were, and they all were still young enough to regard that as a quality above almost any other.Hans took it as an auspicious sign that the cities to which his father wanted to send him were also centers of subversive political activity, from which the pamphlets he and his friends read were smuggled into Austria. His natural urge to dominate any group was tempered, though none of the other members realized it, by an acute awareness of how fragile a basis in experience underlay his claims, and he thought that by going to different radical gatherings in England and Switzerland, he could acquire the final polish on his political education. When he at last left, he warned his friends not to expect his letters to include any mention of the various underground contacts he would make abroad, ostensibly out of a fear of being detected by the government’s mail censors, but in reality, because he wanted to preserve his independence from any outside constraints, especially the opinions of other members of his group. Hans was not much more inclined to let his friends know exactly what he was doing than his father would have been to let his partners in a business venture know the details of all the other negotiations he was involved in at the same time. Although he listened to the different radical leaders with the curiosity of a bright student eager both to learn from and to test himself against the most renowned teachers of the day, Hans never formally joined any one party, preferring to keep open the possibility of working with a number of them, even though they often regarded one another as bitter rivals. The possible addition to their ranks of Hans’s name and funds was enough to persuade otherwise rigidly sectarian party organizers to allow him a leeway they would never have extended toward a less attractive recruit, and Hans took full advantage of his freedom to pick and choose among the various factions. His instinctive preference was always for the most intractable theories. When he finally committed himself to returning home to organize a revolutionary cell entirely on his own, it was the scientific, purely logical authority of the revolutionaries’ historical analyses that convinced him, and he trusted in them with the same certainty that he felt watching his father speculate on the movement of iron and steel prices. What thrilled him more than anything he had known before was the confirmation of his belief in a rigorous science of revolution, as irrefutable as the proofs of a mathematical formula.On his way back from Switzerland, Hans stopped off in Vienna for a few weeks, and then, having first asked his father not to tell anyone the exact date of his arrival, he returned home from the capital on the evening express train, where he was met at the station only by Nicholas, who took him directly to the Rotenburg villa. Over the next few days, and without any of the resistance Moritz had expected, Hans agreed to resume working alongside his father’s senior aides in order to prepare himself for the day he would inherit the company. Yet Moritz noticed that his son avoided any intimate conversation that did not touch on business and seemed even more distant and withdrawn than before his departure. Although news of his return spread quickly through the town, as far as Moritz could tell from asking the servants, only four or five of Hans’s large circle of acquaintances ever seemed to be invited to the house. According to Dr. Demetz, Hans never bothered getting in touch with Batya at all. Moritz wondered whether perhaps Hans had been more injured than he had let on at the news that Batya and the von Alpsbach boy were known to be seeing each other—a liaison that greatly distressed both sets of parents as well—but if Hans was troubled, he never mentioned it to anyone. If anything, during his time away his sexual tastes seemed to have gravitated from girls like Batya Demetz and Sophie Pichler toward working-class women. He had recently come up with the eccentric notion of renting an apartment in the run-down Josef Quarter, motivated, no doubt, by the need for a place to entertain certain kinds of women whom it was impossible to bring to his father’s home. Although Moritz wasn’t in the least alarmed by such whims, viewing them as expressions of a harmless frivolity on the part of someone who, for his age, was otherwise altogether too serious and self-contained, he saw no reason for Hans to sever his ties to his old circle either. It was precisely to help reintegrate Hans into the local community that Moritz had arranged for the reception at the Mendelssohn Club, but when his son sent him a two-line note from his new flat, half an hour before they were due to leave together for the party, saying only that he was not feeling well enough to attend, Moritz was too discouraged to go over to the club alone. He sent Nicholas in his place to make the necessary apologies, knowing that since everyone would be furious with him and attribute both his and Hans’s absence to arrogance, it was pointless to exert himself to frame an acceptable explanation in person. Moritz had no wish to be morose in the company of people like Gerhard Himmelfarb, who resented him for his money, and Rudi Pichler, who may have been no fonder of him than Gerhard, but who had a daughter to marry off and still futilely dreamed of pairing her with Hans. Moritz found no pleasure in hurting people’s feelings. But what anyone at the club thought of him ultimately made no difference to the financier, and in that judgment, at least, although the whole snowed-in town lay between them, father and son were more united that evening than either of them realized.
 While everyone at the Mendelssohn Club was muttering about Hans’s absence, he himself was trying unsuccessfully to get a proper fire going in the apartment he had just rented. Outside his door, in the narrow stairway of the three-story building, everything was saturated with the smell of cheap cooking lard and kerosene, and thick layers of soot clung permanently to the walls like an imitation of the black drapery found in middle-class homes when an important family member has died. Inside, it was nearly as gloomy. The grimy windows hadn’t been washed in years, and the room itself was almost completely bare. The only visible objects were two rickety wooden chairs, an old stove, a desk that had been nailed to the floor, and an iron bed frame without a mattress; everything else had been hastily removed by the previous tenants, who had left without paying the rent and taken with them whatever was easily transportable. As he scrambled around, looking for a place to set down the armful of books he had brought with him, Hans found himself regretting his impracticality for the hundredth time since he had come back. It took several tries before he finally managed to get the heap of cheap coal and shreds of old newspaper to catch fire, and he was forced to admit to himself that if he was going to make the place habitable, he would have to hire someone reliable to begin looking after it right away. The landlord would be able to arrange for a cleaning woman to come regularly, but since he could hardly ask Batya Demetz to take care of buying the necessary furniture, he would need to engage Herr Lászny, the manager of Koppensteiner’s Department Store, to come and look over the rooms. It would almost certainly be the first time Lászny had ever been inside an apartment in this district, but the Rotenburgs were too important for him to hesitate to offer his services.By now, though, dusk was falling, and Hans reluctantly concluded that it would be some time before the apartment could be used for anything more than a few hurried, preliminary meetings. Tonight he was expecting only four visitors, Christoph von Hradl, Joachim Gerling, Leo von Arnstein, and Manfred Langer. They were the most loyal members of his old reading group and would have to form the nucleus of the revolutionary cell. They all had wondered if Hans would invite Ernst von Alpsbach, whom everyone, except, perhaps, Ernst and Hans themselves, used to regard as Hans’s closest friend. It was true that Ernst was the only one whose intelligence Hans fully respected, but their friendship had been marked from early on by a certain mutual wariness that was more than just the natural rivalry of two extraordinarily privileged and strong-willed young men. Hans had almost completed his internship in London and was making arrangements to go on to Zurich when Sophie Pichler wrote to tell him that Ernst and Batya had become romantically linked. Sophie’s malice toward Batya was so transparent it made it easier for Hans to treat her news as something that no longer concerned him directly. He told himself that Ernst and Batya belonged to an earlier phase of his own development. There was even something flattering in the thought that these two figures from his past should have become lovers once he was no longer around. To his surprise, though, now that he was back in town, he sometimes woke up in the middle of the night wondering whether they had been together that day, and before he could go back to sleep, he had to force himself to dispel a series of dismayingly vivid images of them lying naked together in Ernst’s room, laughing at some remembered absurdity of his. Christoph and the others all looked up to Ernst as well, and there was no doubt that he had sufficient personal authority to set himself up as a rival in the cell. Nonetheless, Hans had concluded that he had no choice but to invite Ernst; to do otherwise would be an admission of self-doubt, so he made a point of showing all the others the note in which he emphasized how much they were looking forward to Ernst’s participation. He was secretly pleased, though, when Ernst had politely excused himself from joining them that evening.Yet in part Hans genuinely regretted Ernst’s absence. Although Hans had decided at the outset to assume sole leadership of their small cell, he was uncomfortably aware of the strain between his scientific confidence in the coming triumph of the movement and his longing to commit an act of “revolutionary justice.” Such a gesture would be the best way to legitimize his role in the group. He was hardly the equal of the professional revolutionaries he had observed abroad, and he sensed that his companions were distinguished mostly by an uninspiring mental and emotional slackness. “They are, all of them, mere dilettantes” was how he phrased it to himself while he was waiting for them to find the house. Their very incompetence compelled him to think of ways to harden the group’s collective resolve. History, Hans believed, had given him a unique opportunity since at this very moment the country’s need and that of his own cell were in perfect harmony: He and his comrades needed to have their resolve forged in some great undertaking, and the Empire required a direct act of revolutionary warfare in order for any meaningful change to occur. It was because he felt ready to provide the first spark for such a war that Hans had bothered to return home at all and work with whatever human material he could recruit.As if to confirm all of Hans’s doubts about them, Christoph and the others had scarcely come though the door when they began to complain about the difficulty of finding the apartment. Not one of them bothered to take off his coat. Instead they all just stood there in an awkward semicircle, pressing themselves up against the stove, visibly baffled at Hans’s whim to meet here rather than at home. Even Gerling and Langer, the two middle-class members of the group who were always so respectfully silent in front of their more distinguished comrades that everyone had taken to calling them “our revolutionary Benedictines,” made no effort to disguise their discomfort. As he watched them impassively from his position by the window, Hans felt more and more pleased at his decision. Making everyone meet here would end up strengthening his domination over the group. The more they were thrust out of their familiar routines, the more they would turn to him to give them a purpose. Besides, everyone could come and go here much more freely than in his own neighborhood. There were already too many dangerous agitators trying to stir up the unemployed in the Josef Quarter for the police to pay much attention to a group of rich boys from the other side of town. It was an honored national tradition for young men of their background to find working-class mistresses, and Hans was confident he would have no trouble making it look as though that were his own aim in setting himself up in this part of town. Policemen, Hans thought, uncovered only what they were already looking for, so all that was necessary to reassure the government spies was for him to come in drunk some evening, accompanied by his friends and a few girls from a nearby bar. They would make enough noise that one of the families in the neighborhood was sure to lodge a complaint. Then Hans would pay the prescribed fine, everyone’s expectations would be satisfied, and no one would take any further notice of his activities.As Hans watched his comrades look around despondently for something to drink and a place to sit down, it occurred to him that for tonight, at least, there was an additional, if unanticipated, advantage to the flat’s condition. Long discussions were impossible under such circumstances. People with chattering teeth and empty stomachs wouldn’t feel like engaging him in a debate about revolutionary theory—at least not when they all had comfortable places to go to as soon as they’d heard him out and felt at liberty to leave. After his visitors had been standing together awkwardly for a few moments, waiting for Hans to start matters, he abruptly straightened himself from his semislouch against the window ledge, walked over to the center of the room, and shook everyone’s hand with an air of hurried but friendly pleasure. He apologized for the unfinished condition of the apartment, but his tone made it clear that he regarded physical comfort as a matter of no great concern and was certain that they all felt the same way. The crucial thing, he told them, was to have a place to meet regularly away from any supervision by either the police or their families’ servants. But when Christoph asked him if it wouldn’t make more sense for at least one or two of them to go to Vienna and establish contacts with some of the radical groups there, Hans quickly cut him off and said that if he had learned one thing abroad, it was the necessity for the separate underground cells to work independently of one another so that if one was ever compromised, it couldn’t take down any of the others in its wake. “Besides”—he went on—“just think how much time it would take to get established in the capital, make the right contacts, and find something useful to do for the cause. We would obviously be much more productive staying right here, where we already know the situation and can organize for some kind of action without needing to bring in unknown and potentially risky outsiders. With this place in the Josef Quarter to throw the police off guard, we could start getting hold of some weapons to store in the basement, and if any of us could manage to infiltrate the lumberyard and cloth factory and make contact with the comrades who are already agitating there in secret, we’d be able to combine an exemplary act of political terror with a mass strike. But don’t make any mistake about it, the strike is a secondary issue for us. Our job—the one I have promised the leadership in Zurich we have both the willpower and the determination to carry out—is the terror itself. Even if the workers themselves aren’t fully aware of it yet, you can be certain that they will rise up to emulate whoever sets the boldest example. Mass action always develops after a deed of individual sacrifice, never the other way around.”Though Hans tried to keep his voice level and businesslike, there was no doubting the excitement he felt as soon as he began to talk about terror as a political instrument. The other men all registered it at nearly the same moment and were faintly embarrassed at witnessing so intimate an emotion seize a friend whose self-control they’d often admired. For Christoph, it was unnervingly similar to how he imagined he himself sounded when he was instructing one of the women in a brothel exactly what to do to augment his pleasure. Leo and Christoph exchanged a quick glance, and then immediately looked away, abashed at the similarity in their response. Both were amazed that for Hans, simply the idea of political terror could arouse intensities that they had known only in shameful erotic encounters, and they wondered what it would feel like to have such a powerful depth of commitment to a cause beyond their own momentary pleasures. Hans caught their look, but the decisive point had already been gained. No one had raised any objection to his call for violence, and whatever strategy might emerge, he intended to treat that initial consent by silence as a pledge no less binding than a legal contract. To give the impression of an open meeting, he would have to keep them all busy talking for a while longer, but as far as he was concerned, everything else said that evening would be just so much chatter.As though he were still a schoolboy, Joachim Gerling instinctively began raising his index finger to indicate a desire to speak, only to blush furiously when he became aware of what he was doing. He pulled his hand partway back down and started tugging at his oversize earlobes as though that had always been his intention. Without Ernst’s presence to fortify him, Gerling would always try to attach himself as closely as possible to the strongest man in a group. Hans knew that, but even he was unprepared for the ineptitude with which Gerling set about ingratiating himself. With a look of utmost seriousness, he asked whether, in light of the growing tensions between the organized Jewish workers and the Catholic socialists, the group couldn’t use some of Hans’s old contacts in the Zionist movement to help build a bridge between the two movements. For an instant Hans was tempted simply to laugh out loud at such nonsense. Instead he decided that pretending to take Gerling’s ideas seriously enough to argue with them was the best way to reward a natural follower for his future loyalty and, more important, to impress on everyone there that what made an idea worthy of being discussed was not its intrinsic merit but only how closely it might echo something Hans himself had once said. So he made a special point of nodding thoughtfully at Gerling’s words and appeared to reflect before answering.“Well, at the moment, Joachim, I am far from convinced these divisions are as deep as certain people would like us all to believe.” Hans kept his eyes firmly fixed on Gerling and addressed him with the same respectful intimacy he used to reserve exclusively for Ernst. “There’s no point jumping to pessimistic conclusions. I don’t believe that the so-called race question carries much weight with the working class. We’re not talking about peasants after all, but about an industrial proletariat with the most developed class consciousness of anyone in the country. We all have got to learn to analyze a situation more dialectically, not condescend to the workers by imagining them sunk in medieval superstition. It’s obvious that all this bigotry is just fomented by the government to set different groups against one another. After the revolution you’ll see that all the nationality questions in the Empire will be resolved without any problem on the basis of class solidarity. To take these things seriously now, under our circumstances, is just counterrevolutionary. Why do you think the authorities encourage windbags like the Zionist recruiters? Just think about it, they all have perfectly legal travel documents giving them permission to hop from town to town to hold their meetings. I have never heard of a banned Zionist paper or exiled leader. Why do you suppose that is the case? Because, to speak objectively, their fantasies are completely reactionary; all they’ll ever do is draw energy away from genuine revolutionary work. I realize none of you here knows much about it, but I wasted a lot of hours investigating them, and believe me, in the crowd that people like that move—and I am afraid that probably now includes our former comrade von Alpsbach and his new girlfriend—these currents are not without a certain appeal. That’s exactly why what we have agreed to tonight is so important. Unlike any of those coffeehouse reformers, what we’re doing is planning something immediate and impossible to overlook. Not another scheme for some distant future, but for right away, something we can do by ourselves, a single pure and ruthless action to show that we already have the power to strike at the government whenever we wish. Think of how many workers would rise up spontaneously to join us if they had a sign that Count Wiladowski himself was afraid of us. What counts now is to demonstrate the will to act. A deed that is absolute, above fear, calculation, or self-interest. Remember everything Vera Zasulich accomplished in Russia by shooting just one reactionary swine? When the jury acquitted her, they say, even some of the high army officers were so impressed by her courage that they couldn’t help applauding. Who’s got the nerve to tell us we can’t be just as steely-minded as our Russian comrades?”Hans abruptly turned away from Gerling and addressed the last question to everyone. It was important to bring them back into the conversation. None of them cared about the Zionists one way or another, and Hans didn’t want them thinking the topic was of more than peripheral importance to him either. Christoph, who had inherited the unhappy tendency of the von Hradl males to a prematurely thinning hairline over a small, nearly dome-shaped head, stared out at the others with the puzzled, abstracted focus of someone looking through the wrong end of a telescope at an unfamiliar and not altogether appealing new species. With his habitual half-bored, half-irritated tone, he pointed out that even in Russia, if their own pamphlets were to be believed, most of the revolutionary parties had renounced assassination as a political instrument.Christoph’s skepticism was exactly what Hans had hoped for. From his father Hans had learned that to dominate a meeting without leaving any doubt about one’s control always required finding at least one influential adversary around the table to overcome. Several times, before important negotiations, Hans had seen Moritz arrange for one of his own secret partners to play the role of opposition leader and let himself be vanquished so that having witnessed his defeat, no one else would dare challenge Moritz’s plans further. Now Hans leaped at the chance and cut von Hradl off before he could make the crucial move from disagreeing with what Hans had proposed to developing a counterposition of his own.“Listen, Christoph, of course I know as well as you that they’ve changed their tactics over there. I was at the meeting in Switzerland when the Russian leadership explained the reasons for their decision, and they all emphasized that it was only a temporary measure. But even if that weren’t the case, I don’t see why we need to feel ourselves bound to follow someone else’s example. Obviously the situation in Russia is different from ours. With the percentage of industrial workers in our country increasing every month we are much closer to a real prerevolutionary situation here than they could ever dream about in Moscow or St. Petersburg. They’ll still be cowering from the Czar’s police long after we have abolished titles and class distinctions. I am thinking of writing a pamphlet about that very question, and when it’s ready, I’ll circulate it to everyone for comments and then send it abroad to be printed as a collective document from our cell. Soon the whole world will see that our backward little province can produce just as dedicated revolutionaries as any of the famous cities in Europe. And why not? When Saint-Just called for Louis the Sixteenth’s head, he wasn’t any older than we are. A revolution can’t be squeamish about employing terror, and anyone who is afraid of shedding blood belongs with the enemies of human progress. If I have learned anything from all those nights listening to debates in underground meeting rooms that were much colder than this flat—I give you my word for that!—it is that it takes an unwavering clarity of mind to demand real sacrifice of oneself and others. I intend to earn the right to make those demands by my own actions, and I expect the same of each of you. For our next meeting I suggest that everyone come up with a proposal for who should be our first target. By then I’ll have had a chance to make this place comfortable enough for a longer discussion, so we can begin to decide on a specific plan of action. It’s clear, though, that we need to start learning more about explosives. If we had reliable instructions, we could use the basement here for manufacturing bombs. I will find out everything I can on that score. In the meantime, Leo and Christoph, you ought to go out hunting more with your relatives and old friends from the cadet regiments. That way you will stay in practice with firearms and might also pick up some useful gossip about important visitors to the Castle, extra security details—anything that can help us stay ahead of the secret police. It’s really too bad that Ernst is not with us anymore since his family connections would be useful in letting us know what Count Wiladowski was up to. I can see that you all are eager to go somewhere warm, so I won’t keep you longer. This has been a productive meeting. Just be careful when you are going down the stairs, and if you make any noise on the way out, be sure it sounds like someone who’s had too much to drink. I’ll lock up after you have gone and see you back in town tomorrow.”
 Half an hour later, when Hans emerged from the tenement, the snowfall had let up somewhat, but it had been a struggle to open the massive front door against the pressure of the high bank of snow blown up against it by the night wind. Most of the Josef Quarter was still unpaved, and any difference between street and sidewalk had been obliterated weeks ago. Apart from the fresh footprints of his friends, there were no signs of activity anywhere near the house. Even the police spies must have given up and gone inside to write their reports. Glancing down the long, curved street at the row of somber houses, ungainly in the pale clarity of the reflected starlight, Hans couldn’t make out a single strand of smoke rising from any of the chimneys in the neighborhood. Placed at what he guessed must be the street intersections, the few gaslights that were still functioning gave off a flickering, anemic glow that only emphasized the cold.He was glad that it was far too late to stop by and explain to his father why he had been unable to come to the party. Although Hans had never hidden his indifference to social obligations, Moritz’s distress at his son’s unwillingness to accompany him to any of the Mendelssohn Club’s activities left Hans with the feeling of having been somehow in the wrong. Like many people who are compelled by the obvious pain they are causing to recognize that they have acted unjustly, Hans, after an initial surge of compassion, quickly began to think of his father with more annoyance than guilt, and lately he found any contact with him, except on matters of family business, exasperating. “Unless I am incredibly unlucky,” Hans reflected as he started walking toward the town center, “he’ll be fast asleep by the time I get home, and I won’t have to talk to him at all until tomorrow.”Hans hadn’t given any thought to how he would get back to his own part of town, and after only a few blocks he began, mostly out of habit, to look out for a carriage that he could hire to take him home. But at that hour there were no vehicles for hire in the Josef Quarter. He continued briskly toward the town center, his naturally long strides leaving a lengthy trail of fresh prints in the snow. In spite of the chill, Hans found that he didn’t mind the walk. The near-frozen air served to clear his mind from the strain of the meeting and cut through the accumulated tobacco smoke that he could still taste in his mouth and lungs. A hot tea with brandy, followed by a long bath, would be enough to restore him. Stopping for a moment underneath the arc of one of the rare working streetlamps, Hans turned his fur collar up against the wind, quickly checked his pocket watch, and calculated that he could be home within three-quarters of an hour. But just when he had reconciled himself to not finding a carriage and settled into the rhythm of his rapid walk, enjoying the softness of the fresh powder snow underneath his boots, he was startled by a fiacre pulling up a few yards ahead of him, obviously waiting until he came within hailing range. By the time Hans came closer, though, he saw that there was very little about the shivering coachman or his scrawny horse to suggest much in the way of comfort, and he quickly determined to walk on. But as he passed the carriage without having slowed down, its door flew open, and a man called out his name, obviously expecting to be recognized in turn. Although Hans had no idea who the passenger might be, something in his tone suggested both an aggrieved querulousness should Hans’s recognition be in any way tardy and a discouraging certainty that just such an offense was bound to occur. When Hans still made no move to get in, the bundled-up figure inside suddenly reached out an arm and, in his eagerness to help Hans negotiate the icy half step up into the carriage, grabbed him by the shoulders at such an awkward angle that Hans momentarily lost his balance and nearly toppled both of them face forward into the street. He barely managed to stay on his feet and, more baffled than annoyed, allowed himself to be pulled inside to a seat on the wooden bank across from the stranger.It was too dark in the carriage to see much except for a thin face, completely dominated by a pair of dull brown, aqueous eyes, set below hypermobile eyebrows that seemed to rise and fall in some complex accord with their possessor’s emotional state. In spite of the cold, he was hatless but, perhaps in compensation, had wrapped himself up in an immense wool coat that looked large enough to contain someone twice his size. While Hans was still settling himself into his seat and trying to make out whatever he could about his new travel companion, the man leaned over toward him until their faces were almost touching and began speaking at such a breathless pace it was as though he were determined to fasten Hans to his place by the sheer torrent of words.“Well, are you going to shut the door and warm yourself or not? There’s a wool blanket here that doesn’t look too mangy, and even a rickety coach like this helps keep the wind out a little bit. It’s lucky for you I came along just now. There won’t be any other carriages at this time of night around here, especially not in such horrible weather. You probably couldn’t recognize me from out there, blinded by all that snow, but I have just been at the club celebrating your return. Yes, yes, it was a great success, though I must say you were much missed tonight, especially by our common friends from the Zionist study groups. But I am glad to be able to give you a lift anyway. Surely you remember when we were introduced at … oh, wherever it was, some time ago? In any case, I am Asher Blumenthal. Of course, when I saw you standing there by the lamppost, I knew right away who you were. Is there anyone in town, even among the goyim, who wouldn’t recognize Hans Rotenburg? Well, it’s a real pleasure to run into you again and be of some small service. I just wish everyone back at the club could see how my evening turned out! It seems I am the only one who got to meet you after all! Are you quite comfortable now? Where can I drop you? I live only a few minutes away from here and would be glad to invite you to my flat for a drink, but my landlady, who’s a real terror, absolutely will not tolerate visitors after nine. If you are in a desperate hurry to get home yourself, I could just get out when we pass my house and let you continue on, but now that we have met again for the first time in ages, wouldn’t it be nice to chat for a while?”On any other evening Hans would probably have gotten away from a person like Asher Blumenthal as quickly as possible. But something in the man’s desperate eagerness made Hans hesitate. Well before he had gone abroad, Hans had begun to train himself to look for qualities in others that might prove useful to him someday, even if he couldn’t always be certain how, and with the same rapid calculation that governed most of his choices, Hans decided to let this strange encounter continue for a while longer. If he could listen to Gerling’s inanities, why not hear this Blumenthal out? Of course bringing him back to the Rotenburg villa was out of the question, and the only place Hans knew where they could sit and talk in comfort at this hour was the Metropole. He politely asked Asher if he felt like joining him there for drinks, confident that in spite of the lateness of the hour, the fellow would leap at the invitation. Indeed Blumenthal instantly accepted without even pretending to weigh the matter. He shouted out their change of destination to the cabbie up above, his delight in naming the town’s most elegant restaurant evident in his voice, and then, as though his energy had already been recharged simply by the idea of what lay ahead, and anxious lest the promised treat be withdrawn at the last moment, he began speaking even more quickly than before.“Well, I must say that’s very generous of you to offer. I didn’t know the Metropole served guests as late as this. But you are quite sure there’ll be a carriage out front to take me home afterward? Otherwise I’d feel pretty silly to have ridden all the way here only to turn around again and go back on foot more or less to where I started from, don’t you agree? It’s all settled then. How perfect. Only a little while ago, back at the club, I thought to myself that a nice plum brandy would be just the thing to end the evening on the right note. To tell you the truth, I have never been inside the Metropole at all, though I have often walked by it and debated having a drink there. You are probably wondering what I am doing hiring a carriage in the first place, but you see, I saved so much money by skipping dinner tonight because of the sandwiches and cakes your father bought for the party that I decided to treat myself to a ride home. And now, by being able so unexpectedly to save you from possibly freezing to death out here, I feel as though I have even had the chance to repay Herr Rotenburg, for his generosity.”Although Asher left no time for any actual reply to his outpourings, he clearly expected some acknowledgment from his listener. With Asher, interruption was physically impossible, and silence regarded as offensive, so even someone much more concerned to indulge him than Hans would have found it a challenging task. Hans, who had no interest in humoring Asher, just stared at him silently with the vague smile that he always put on when trying to make up his mind about a person without committing himself in any way. After a few more sentences Asher began to grow increasingly uneasy at not getting back whatever signs of encouragement he was waiting for, and almost in mid-sentence, with only the slightest pause to draw fresh breath, his tone abruptly veered from excited anticipation to injured complaint.“Well, I can certainly see that none of this interests you, but there’s no need to make it so obvious. You probably think it’s true what they say, that we talk too much about money. It’s like my sister’s old joke that whenever a Jew is complimented on a new suit or watch, he immediately feels the need to declare that he actually bought it on sale and paid only half the asking price. But she said it with affection, from inside, as it were, with a warm heart, and that’s quite different from the way you are sitting there judging me. I am sure it’s easy to sneer at such topics when one is Hans Rotenburg, who never has to think twice about buying whatever strikes his eye in a store window or stopping in for refreshments at the Metropole whenever he is in the mood. You probably don’t even know how much money you have in your wallet right now, do you? The rich never bother counting it up before leaving home because they take for granted that there’ll always be enough. But people like me can tell you to the last penny the total sum in their pockets, their savings books, and their pension funds! I am sure you have your own table kept ready for you at our fanciest hotels and that everything is just put on your account, so if you don’t feel like it, you needn’t bring along something as sordid as real coins. Well, for someone in my position, the world is a rather different kind of place, so if we are going to continue being friends and enjoy a nice, intimate tête-à-tête, I’ll have to ask you not to look quite so superior.”The idea of simply slapping Blumenthal, who was losing himself in his tirade like the worst kind of leading man in a provincial acting troupe, momentarily flashed through Hans’s mind, but the physical intimacy required by the gesture was too distasteful. Instead he decided to amuse himself by testing the effect of different kinds of responses on such a person, beginning with a mildly reassuring nod in Blumenthal’s general direction, accompanied by a genial, if somewhat indistinct, murmur of goodwill. To Hans’s surprise, who had not expected so instantaneous a reversal, even that slight signal of interest was enough for Asher to modulate out of his aria of wounded dignity and revert back to the happier tones of his opening declamation.“Of course everything’s fine. I am sure you didn’t mean to be rude, and that’s all the apology I could ask for. And if I sounded a little harsh myself, I am not too proud to admit I am sorry too. It’s been a rather hard few weeks on everyone, so I guess we’re all a bit oversensitive. You know, it isn’t easy for me to be sitting across from someone I have been dying to meet, who turns out to be as silent as a goy. It’s a little hard for me to believe you are still really one of us, if you know what I mean. Here I am sharing all my thoughts with you, and you haven’t really said a word to me about what you are feeling. But I am tremendously looking forward to my first drink at the Metropole and to hearing your reaction to an idea of mine on a very important matter. You see, I have come up with a plan that I am convinced can be of great benefit to us both.”
 This far to the east in Franz Josef’s empire, the cultural prestige of Paris was a serious rival to that of Vienna, especially, perhaps, because by the term culture, the town understood primarily its eating establishments. The manager of the Metropole had never in fact spent time in Paris itself, but early in his career he had served a summer apprenticeship in Nice and ever since had dreamed of creating his own version of the grand establishments found along the Boulevard des Anglais. The result was one of the few places in town that disdained any attempt to resemble a Viennese coffeehouse and instead was determinedly formal and French-leaning in its architecture and furnishings. Although no one went so far as to expect the staff actually to know a word of French, they all were nonetheless carefully trained to imitate the supposed haughtiness of their Parisian counterparts, a task in which, under the autocratic rule of the formidable headwaiter, Anton, they succeeded admirably.Every evening after eleven, though, a more relaxed atmosphere was tolerated, and the ornate central dining room, with its row of chandeliers and green silk hangings, reflected in four heavy gilt mirrors recessed in special niches in the side walls, was closed off. The kitchen shut down, the chef, along with Anton and the senior staff, retired home for the night, and only a small crew of younger aspirants stayed at their posts to serve guests who wanted to come in for a late-night drink or a bite of cold food in one of the smaller side rooms. It was a lucrative way to get rid of all the leftovers from the evening’s dinners, and the manager, who had learned something useful from his time in France after all, correctly calculated that the clients who came at such an hour were even less likely to look closely at their bill than patrons who kept more conventional hours, and so inflated the already exorbitant prices of everything by an additional 15 percent. As a good Austrian, though, he was also thoroughly familiar with how to circumvent the bureaucratic regulations governing his trade, and he made sure that his extortions did not break any laws by printing at the head of the after-dinner menu a small notice, scarcely readable in the dim light of the side rooms, to the effect that there would be a “late-night surcharge” on all items consumed on the premises after hours.It was into one of these small rooms that Hans and Asher were led, and after getting over his initial, and very visible, disappointment that he would not after all be eating in the Metropole’s famous dining room, Asher carefully studied the menu, read the notice of the nighttime price increase, and settled into his seat with total contentment, the augmentation of an already unimaginable cost more than compensating for the slight falling off in the ornateness of the decor.Hans, who was surprised by how hungry he felt, ordered enough food for both of them. He knew the menu by heart and quickly decided on some chicken à la gelée and cold smoked hare with red currant jelly, accompanied by a potato salad and an assortment of vegetables, pickled in the chef’s own cellars. He also asked for a double serving of the restaurant’s specialty, thin-sliced cold goose breast, which came to their table at the same time as a basket of poppy seed rolls and a half loaf of fragrant pumpernickel bread on its own small cutting board. Instead of wine, he chose a bottle of old Madeira, remembering that one of his father’s English business associates always insisted there was nothing better for keeping out the cold. He tried a glass, satisfied himself that the man was right, and then started serving himself from whatever dish was within easy reach, concerned at first only to restore his strength without paying much attention to the taste of what he was eating. After a few minutes, though, he noticed that Asher hadn’t touched any of the food and was being ostentatiously ignored by the young waiters, who continued to flurry around Hans. He quickly rectified that with a sharp glance and, feeling both warm and alert now, decided to see exactly what kind of conversation he had let himself in for.Asher was clearly still brooding about his earlier outburst, and Hans was determined to forestall whatever apology Asher was on the verge of formulating. “Of course, Blumenthal, you do know I am not in the least still vexed by anything you might have said in the carriage. Far from it. Besides, I think it was very good of you to offer me a lift. I admit I am curious about whatever’s on your mind, but frankly, I am not all that up-to-date about what’s been happening at the club. Nobody asked you to come looking for me tonight, did they?” Asher’s puzzlement at the question was too obviously sincere for Hans to doubt him, but he was still clearly relieved when Asher assured him that he had acted entirely on his own initiative. “Oh, I meant someone like my father, of course,” Hans explained. “But I am glad to hear that he didn’t. It was just a silly notion, don’t pay it any mind. By the way, I am sure that if you prefer it, they have some first-rate slivovitz here. By all means, go ahead and order whatever you like. From what you have told me, it’s probably been a while since you ate, so I ordered some of their best cold dishes for us to share. Please, just help yourself.”Stefan, the favorite of Anton’s numerous cousins, had been entrusted with the supervision of the late-night staff and, sensing the prospect of a good tip, ordered away the other waiters and took it upon himself to serve Hans Rotenburg and his peculiar companion. He brought out a half-full bottle of the restaurant’s oldest slivovitz and set it before Asher with a deep, formal bow that managed to combine a graceful apology for his earlier inattention and a look conveying that only in the company of a Rotenburg would a person like this dare come into the Metropole. Fortunately for Hans’s nerves, Asher was sufficiently delighted, either by Stefan’s deferential near curtsy or by the sight of the bottle in his hand, that he paid no attention to the mockery in the waiter’s expression. Instead he poured out as much of the slivovitz as the thin liqueur glass placed in front of him would hold and drained it in a single gulp. He repeated the gesture three or four more times, with an astonishing rapidity and single-mindedness, smacking his lips so loudly at the end of each gulp that Stefan’s look changed from self-satisfied bemusement to something close to undisguised alarm. But Asher was no longer paying any attention to the waiter. He looked contentedly over at Hans and, taking great care to enunciate each syllable clearly, said to him, “Um. Yes, this is exquisite. What a lovely room too. Just the place for two men of the world like us to discuss serious questions, eh? This slivovitz really is better than anything I have ever had. I have to be careful not to get drunk. With my delicate constitution it probably wouldn’t take much. Weak lungs. Hereditary, like my poor sister. Our ancestral curse. The poor and the Jews. Doubly so for poor Jews. But you wouldn’t know about that, would you? No offense meant. It’s just hard sometimes not to think about how unfair it all is. I’ll probably never come back in here again, but for you this whole grand place is just your corner tavern.”“Maybe I understand better than you imagine. I think you are right to feel angry at so much injustice all around us. Only it seems to me you can’t do much about it if you always look at everything in such personal terms. And I really don’t see why you need to bring in being Jewish all the time, as if that were the key to everything. But let’s leave that for another time. Here, I see there’s just about enough in the bottle for another glass, so let me do the honors and freshen up your drink. It’s starting to get really late, and we’re both going to need to go home and rest. So, tell me, what’s this important matter you wanted to discuss?”“All right.” Asher agreed cheerfully enough. He didn’t in the least mind being interrupted now since it gave him a chance to concentrate on the slivovitz in front of him. Occasionally he also took a few slices of the goose breast along with some bread, and only after having finished chewing both with immense concentration was he ready to go on talking. “But you have got to let me take my time. Here I am, after midnight, in the Metropole, drinking slivovitz and eating costly delicacies with Hans Rotenburg. You can’t wonder if I am not in such a hurry as you to conclude matters. You get to eat with Hans Rotenburg all the time. That didn’t come out right. I meant it as a little joke. A kind of compliment. I am not hopelessly tactless, you know, even if I have had a touch too much to drink.”“Of course not; in fact it’s obvious how clever you are. I give you my word, I am planning to tell the friends I was with earlier tonight how interesting it was to meet up with you. It’s high time they all got to know someone like you as well.”Immediately a look of shrewd, suspicious knowingness materialized on Asher’s face, so incongruous with his expression only an instant earlier that it almost seemed as though he had simply borrowed it from some storehouse of ready-made looks and attitudes, kept available, like theatrical masks, for every new occasion and scene. “Why is that?” he asked. “Are they looking for a good accountant whose discretion they can rely on? I can’t promise anything, you know, until I have studied all the documents, but I can tell you, without boasting, that I am very good at my job. Even if no one at Sobieski’s seems to appreciate that,” he added as a bitter afterthought.For an instant Hans was genuinely baffled by this latest outburst. It took him a moment to work out what Asher must be thinking, but when he had done so, the absurdity of it made Hans laugh out loud for the first time all evening. “No, no, my dear Blumenthal, I wasn’t thinking of your profession at all, although I certainly believe that you must be excellent at it. I just meant that my friends ought to get to know someone with your breadth of outlook and personal history. They have no idea about experiences like those you have been telling me about, and with your help, I want to correct that.”But strangely enough, the suspicious look was not exchanged for a different one from Asher’s impressively varied repertoire of mistrust. On the contrary, if Asher had concluded one thing from his professional training, it was that when a rich man bothered giving his inferior a compliment, it could mean only that he needed some special service performed, and cheaply too. Otherwise he might simply hire someone to do the task at the prevailing wage and spare himself the need to be so polite. Something in Hans’s tone seemed to confirm his intuition.“That’s very flattering, Rotenburg,” he answered, “but after all, won’t you be leaving for Vienna or somewhere like that soon? The moment you do, you are bound to forget the new acquaintances you have made here. That’s one of the main things I intended to discuss with you.”“Go on, I am listening.”“Well, I was thinking, back at the club everyone was saying that you are going to go to work for your father, and it occurred to me that if you do, you’ll no doubt be spending a lot of time in Vienna. But once you are there, it’ll be only as Moritz Rotenburg’s son that people will take you seriously. Oh, you’ll still have all your father’s money to spend, and the girls there are probably a lot readier for a good time than our homegrown variety, but won’t you be just another Jewish arriviste with deep pockets? I have an idea of how you can establish yourself on your own terms and get the sort of name that carries weight with the right crowd, a name that has a kind of prestige that goes beyond money.”“Excuse me, but I really don’t understand. Why do you suppose I am going to Vienna? I appreciate your trying to help, but I am honestly at a loss. How long have you been thinking about this? What if you hadn’t run into me at all?”“Well, to be perfectly honest, it all came to me in a rush when I recognized you there under the streetlight. It’s true that I heard about your going to work for your father only this evening at the club, but somehow, as soon as our paths crossed, I knew exactly what I wanted to tell you. Seeing you tonight was just the inspiration I needed. Don’t worry, there’s something in it for me as well; it’s not just benevolence on my part. But I will get to that after telling you my plan. Anyway, as I see it, what you need is a strategy to establish yourself in Vienna in a completely different sphere from your father’s, and it so happens I have got just the way to do it. A friend of mine, Alexander Garber, who was at the Commercial College with me, left for the capital to become a playwright. He always dreamed about having a piece put on at the Burgtheater. Well, I don’t know that there’s been much progress in that direction, but in the meantime he wrote to tell me that he’s become one of the editors of a small literary journal. It only has a tiny paid circulation, but Alexander says that its articles are read everywhere, and its reviews can help make or break a new artist. Even the Mendelssohn Club subscribes to it, so you can easily look through the latest issue there. Now I know journals like his are always desperately in need of capital, as well as on the lookout for promising new talent. And who, I suddenly realized when our paths crossed, could more brilliantly fulfill both functions than Alexander’s and my own fellow townsman Hans Rotenburg? Can’t you see it yourself? You offer to underwrite the expenses of the paper, as a silent partner, at the same time as you become one of their regular contributors. Just like that, in almost no time, you go from being a complete unknown to a cultural force to be reckoned with!”“Good heavens. Asher. Of course I am touched by your wanting to help me, but even you would have to agree that’s a pretty extravagant scheme. Was this whole inspiration really triggered by our accidental run-in? I mean, here you have gone ahead and made all these calculations without asking if any of them had the slightest foundation in reality. Even assuming I did go to Vienna and that I wanted to make an independent name for myself there, what gives you the idea that I have any talent for literary journalism? Or that I’d be inclined to finance a magazine I have never heard of because it’s run by someone from our town with whom you were at school years ago?”By now all the food was gone, and the waiters had cleared away the dishes while the men were talking. Asher’s bottle was quite empty, of course, but Hans was surprised to see that so was his own. He signaled Stefan to bring them two more bottles, only to have Asher shake his head to countermand the order and insist that he didn’t want to drink anything more until he had finished explaining his ideas. Asher’s tone became increasingly persistent as he felt his chance slipping away. “I know it may sound far-fetched,” he conceded, “but just think of the opportunities. You say you are not interested in literary journalism, but surely there’s something you’d like to write about for an audience a bit wider than the people in this dismal town. Who’s to say that with your backing, The New Order would need to limit itself to the arts? Perhaps you are more interested in legal issues, or business, or maybe the Jewish problem. As a regular columnist you’d be free to develop any theme that struck your fancy. It seems to me that if we played our cards right—yes, I mean we, you’ll see how in a few moments—it would be easy to redirect the whole focus of the magazine. At first, if you were hesitant, you could always turn to me for advice and help with editing your pieces, until you got your writer’s legs, so to speak, and once you did get a reputation as someone with a new vision and a strong capital asset base, it wouldn’t be too hard for Alexander and you to outmaneuver the other members of the board and take over the whole journal yourselves. You have no idea how compelling the combination of talent and money is to people who mostly lack either. As soon as your coup was successful, I could give up my wretched job here and join you to take care of the paper’s financial and advertising sides. I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at writing an occasional piece as well, and I am certain that the three of us together could expand the operation and take the whole city by storm. As a triumvirate we’d be irresistible, invited to all the salons and openings, and everyone would have to pay attention to whatever we said. People back here would never believe the success we were having. Just knowing how jealous they’ll all be would satisfy me for a whole year.”“I am sorry for laughing”—Hans finally interrupted—“but you do need to catch your breath before you have us summoned out to Schönbrunn to advise the Emperor how to run the country and what operas to patronize. I would never have taken you for such an enthusiast, my dear Blumenthal. I am quite overwhelmed. Of course it’s all hopeless nonsense, so please don’t pretend to be offended, you must see that as clearly as I do. But you know, your plan is not without its interesting aspects either. And now I think we really do need those fresh drinks. You don’t mind if I send the waiter for some ink and paper at the same time? I want to jot down a few things you have mentioned because I am sure I won’t be able to remember much of this tomorrow. Now, you said that this journal … the what? that’s right … The New Order, is almost bankrupt. Well, yes, of course you did, in so many words. Don’t worry so much, no one here has ever heard of it, so to whom could I pass on the rumor, even if I were interested in doing so? I am just trying to get a sense of the real possibilities here. You won’t be accused of betraying any confidences. A few minutes ago you were recklessly conquering Vienna, and now you look as nervous as if your employer might find out you’d been pilfering from the petty cash box. Oh, please, no. Don’t take offense at my way of expressing things. It’s much too late to start that all over again. Let’s just work together to see if there’s anything in what you have told me from which we could extract something useful. For both of us, I mean.”“But are you really not thinking of going to Vienna?” Asher asked in an appalled tone. “I can’t believe you wouldn’t leap at the chance to get away from here again, unless it’s a question of some girl you are in love with? But you’d never let something like that stand in your way, not a man with your opportunities! So it must be something else. Wait just a minute now, you aren’t thinking of using my suggestion all by yourself, are you? And leaving me out of it to rot away here forever?”“No, of course not,” Hans assured him. “No to both your questions. I am going home in a few minutes, but first I want to write down your address. I’ll get in touch with you in a few days, and we can take these ideas of yours further then. In the meantime I want you to think about two things. In the first place, if we do work together at all, it is going to have to be done here, not in Vienna, and second, I am not about to finance anything that is under the control of others. Being a cultural patron appeals to me even less than becoming a writer, and I am not nearly as careless with my money as you seem to think. But some of what you have said about the journal is interesting to me, even if it needs a great deal more looking into. Right now, though, let me have them call you a carriage and I’ll pay the driver to take you wherever you are heading. That’s only fair. After all, you brought me here at your expense. Yes, what is it? There’s really nothing else we can accomplish tonight, so why are you still so agitated?”“But I haven’t even gotten to one of the most important ways you might help me!”“I am sorry. I thought the part about running the journal with Alexander and me was exactly that.”“That was mostly to help you! I think it’s pretty obvious that any advantages coming to me from the plan would take a long time to materialize. I have already admitted that I improvised a lot of it as we were speaking, and of course I still think it’s a wonderful scheme, but my original hope was much more modest. You remember about the dreadful landlady who wouldn’t let me invite even someone like you to my flat for a late-night drink? Well, it doesn’t matter, but that’s what she’s like. Anyway, you can imagine how impossible it is for me to entertain a young lady properly under such constraints. I don’t like the kinds of hotels where one rents rooms by the hour; I have been in one only a few times and then always felt too afraid of being robbed and beaten to be at ease. I am not ashamed to admit that in such surroundings I am not really able to, well, you know what I mean, respond the way a man should. So I have nowhere at all to go late at night for an intimate rendezvous. What I was hoping, you see, is that you might occasionally let me use your flat in the Josef Quarter.”When Hans started asking how Asher had found out about his apartment, the accountant just looked at him with a superior expression and answered, “Oh, come, who’s being absurd now? Of course everyone in the district knew about your wanting a ‘secret’ apartment from the moment you began to look around for one. It became the talk of the whole neighborhood. People were terrified that their rents would go up! But there must be many evenings you don’t go there, and if I could just know that I might use it on one or two of those nights, it would transform my whole social life. Well, yes, maybe I am overstating things again, but I don’t know how else to convince you what a difference it would make to me if I knew that I had a discreet, cozy apartment to which I could invite lady guests. It goes without saying that I’d be extremely careful not to compromise you in any way, and it seems to me that having someone respectable occasionally look in at your flat might be helpful as a safety measure.”At this Hans looked up with annoyance and, in a sharper tone than he had used before, muttered that he didn’t think the police were likely to break into his apartment, even if it was located in the Josef Quarter.“No, I do not mean vis-à-vis the police.” Asher went on, too wrapped up in his own story to give much thought to Hans’s interruption. “Why would they care? It’s just that I could make sure the place was kept clean and that there was always enough fresh linen and coal or wood plus whatever provisions you wanted kept on hand for whenever you dropped in. I don’t expect you to agree right away, but please at least promise me you’ll think about it and let me know your decision in person. You can’t imagine how much all this means to me.”Hans stayed silent and just let Asher keep on talking until he had worn himself out on the topic. Then he promised to consider Asher’s offer seriously but said that he was much too tired to do so now. Hans signaled for Stefan to bring him the bill, and Asher, realizing that he had gotten everything he could out of the encounter, stood up to leave, letting one of the other waiters help him into his coat, oblivious of the obvious distaste with which the man held the garment.“This has been wonderful!” Asher said once he was fully enveloped again. “I’ll just borrow one of these excellent cigarettes for the drive home and get going. I’ll barely have time to shave and change my shirt before I have to go back in to work, but I wouldn’t have missed talking to you for anything. Yes, good night, Herr Rotenburg. Or rather, good morning. Don’t forget to let me know what you think about my suggestions. And please remember to give my respects to your distinguished father. I will be waiting eagerly to hear from you. Good-bye.”
 Had Asher turned back to glance around the room one last time before stepping out in the snow, he would have been astonished at the loathing with which Hans watched him depart through the Metropole’s glasspaneled front door. Stefan, who did catch Hans’s expression, thought it might be directed at him and instinctively retreated back into the closed kitchen, expecting to forgo the large tip to which he had looked forward all night. But Hans’s anger had nothing to do with the restaurant’s service, and had Batya been there, she could have explained his mood from her own experience. It was simply that nothing is more irritating to a rich man than to be taken for a fool merely on account of his wealth. Yet such miscalculations occur all the time, and purely in self-defense the sensibilities of the rich have become extraordinarily prickly about their intellectual or artistic gifts. The extravagant respect paid to a great fortune by the larger portion of humanity is balanced by the stubbornness with which a smaller part thinks it is being particularly high-minded by showing its indifference to mere material advantages. When the rich man in question also likes to imagine himself an original thinker or artist, the problem of how his less wealthy associates react to him becomes painfully acute. They of course have their sights set on his capacity to alleviate their daily anxieties with a single, strategically placed signature on a loan; he, on the other hand, is concerned to obtain their recognition of his gifts in realms remote from checkbooks and bank balances. This mutual incomprehension is likely to end in recriminations, whether actually uttered or not, and it might almost be best, before any harm occurs, if both parties were forced to hear the warning Austrian nursemaids used to cry out to their young charges when their games became especially boisterous: “Be careful, this is going to end badly!”Fortunately, Hans was not in the least artistically inclined, nor, for all his reading in radical literature, did he delude himself that his few short essays had made an important contribution to revolutionary theory. But at least in comparison with others of his own age, nothing had happened to make him doubt his general intellectual gifts. With much less reason, he also prided himself on a levelheaded discernment about human nature. Consequently, Asher’s torrent of improbable schemes and presumptuous requests, all of which depended for their success on the palpable stupidity of their intended target, had succeeded in deeply irritating Hans. To have been taken for a spoiled fool by someone as overwrought as Asher Blumenthal was thoroughly offensive. His compensatory politeness to Asher was less a calculated ruse and more the manifestation of a need to think well of himself again. He needed time to suppress both his anger at Asher and his irritation with himself for being so exasperated by a nonentity like that. Contrary to Asher’s assumption, Hans’s promise to consider his proposals seriously was not motivated by any guilt at the disparity in their economic positions. Hans’s expressions of goodwill were meant, instead, to display the trait he most admired, the ability coolly to put aside personal prejudices in order to extract from any situation the maximum advantage for his own long-term goals. Finding a way to convert their encounter to useful ends, in spite of his complete aversion to Asher, was Hans’s way of restoring the always delicate mechanism of his pride. Hans could shrug off any direct attack on his privileged life since what he considered corrupting was his father’s money, not his own, and in any case the economic theories in whose interests he was considering recruiting Asher had long ago dispensed with questions of individual responsibility for social injustice. Asher’s desperate eagerness to change his situation, no matter how implausible the means, made him a potentially useful addition to Hans’s cell. Not, of course, as an equal member, no matter what it might prove necessary to tell him, but Hans clearly needed someone to keep the apartment in order, and Asher was ideal for the position. Furthermore, none of the others in the cell had anything like the personal sense of grievance against the world that permeated Asher. From Marx, Hans had learned about the bourgeoisie’s use of “the reserve army of the unemployed” to keep wages down. Why, then, shouldn’t the revolution make use of the thronging “reserve army” of disaffected clerks to keep its safe houses well heated and clean?The assumption of easy superiority in Hans’s ruminations restored his good humor, and whenever in the following days he thought about ways in which Asher’s schemes might be adapted to the needs of the movement, he was able to do so without letting his rancor cloud his judgment.But if someone like Hans is unlikely to be as obtuse as the Ashers of this world imagine, it is just as true that the needy will scarcely appreciate having their indigence brought home to them with such casual disdain, as though differences they regarded as determined solely by the availability of a sufficient supply of money were actually a reflection of their character. Asher knew he had behaved extravagantly and was quite ready to despise himself accordingly. But in his mind Hans was far from blameless in the whole affair. In fact Asher saw his own excess of speech and gesture as an admittedly pathetic, but not unprovoked, attempt to break through the reserve of Hans’s judgmental and bored generosity, an emotional reserve based, even if Hans didn’t want to admit it, precisely on the serene expanse of his financial reserves. Far from cheering him up, the justice of Asher’s case against Hans only provoked Asher to more caustic reflections, but at their core lay the indigestible, bitter clump that reminded him of how much easier it would be for Hans to forget their encounter than it would be for him. Hans was five years younger, yet simply because of his fortunate birth, he had already experienced so much more of the world than Asher was likely to know. In a curious way, though, it seemed to Asher as though Hans’s condescension had pricked him on to some of his best ideas. In spite of enjoying the gossip from the capital provided by Alexander’s letters, Asher had never before thought of their taking over the magazine together. He wasted little time regretting the need to involve someone as uncongenial as Hans in his scheme, in part because Asher had seen too much not to realize that in order to succeed, he would need to sell himself many times over and in part because he thought that whatever might happen, Hans’s interest would flag quickly enough. Soon he would content himself with only the occasional, although no doubt galling, interference. For the moment what mattered was the sudden, sharp look of interest that Hans had directed at him as soon as Asher mentioned the journal. Why Hans would admit to at least some degree of curiosity about The New Order, while insisting that he didn’t want to go to Vienna or become a writer, was a puzzle to which Asher had no key, but he knew one would soon be forthcoming if the project were to go any further. It was only to be expected that Hans would somehow try to use him, even if Asher still had no sense of how or to what purpose. But he registered Hans’s discomfort at his emotional outbursts clearly enough, and Asher decided that staying in character as a touchy, overexcitable Jew, a role he knew was hardly alien to his repertoire, might give him unexpected advantages in the future. It was always a good idea to let others take one for a greater fool than perhaps one really was. All the same, to keep playing the fool to someone as callow and self-satisfied as the Rotenburg heir probably exceeded his own capacity for self-control, and Asher was afraid that in the future, just as in the restaurant tonight, his outbursts of wounded feeling were likely to be more authentic than staged. Practically, though, things were looking far more promising than he had imagined possible only a few hours ago. The real problem was how to determine if anything at all would result from their conversation.When he tried to make a systematic inventory of useful impressions, Asher found that in spite of the care with which he had observed Hans, he had very little on which to build. But if Hans was clearly not as witless as Asher had at first assumed and, he had to admit, even hoped, neither was he as clever as he clearly estimated himself to be. And so Asher spent the next days using all his skill as an accountant to draw up elaborate columns in which he listed his own and Hans’s qualities and motives, calculating from them how best to exploit whatever advantages he could discern in his position, until his notebook began to resemble the battle plans used in military colleges to instruct young recruits in the science of warfare. But armies, as we regularly witness, are taught only how to fight the previous war and are left pitifully unprepared for the one that is coming. Thus it is not too surprising that the only tangible result of Asher’s feverish immersion in high strategy was a dreadful mix-up in the way he handled his firm’s negotiations about the bars of soap the Sobieski Company wanted to import through Trieste until their Italian trading partners emerged with a much better contract than originally envisaged and Asher’s employers became even more dubious about his suitability for a responsible position.Copyright © 2004 by Michael André Bernstein
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Worth the struggle...

    I am past the 200 page mark as I key this review in. Fascinating book. I picked it up at Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore in Salt Lake City, as a used book (mint condition) in the Mystery section.

    I have yet to figure out why it was shelved in the Mystery section, one of the reasons I purchased it, the other being that it's an account of life in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Austria after World War I, both of which I find interesting in and of themselves.

    I am fascinated by and in deep sympathy with Moritz Rotenburg, the character that seems most appealing to me. His parts of the story line are worth a quote or two a page.

    I also suspect Brugger to be the Devil himself. Always knows the right thing to say to people to take them aback. Or perhaps he's the Messiah. Only time will tell.

    I hate the almost one page per paragraph layout of the text. I makes it a chore to read at times and I have to be extra mindful of where I am on the page. I suppose it keeps the book from having even more pages.

    If you're interested in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a lighter yet equally worthy format, I recommend the John Biggins series...


    Starting with "Tomorrow the World: In Which Cadet Otto Prohaska Carries the Habsburg Empire's Civilizing Mission to the Entirely Unreceptive Peoples of Africa and Oceania"

    Biggins has no illusions about the Austro-Hungarians, but he is more comedic about it.

    As well as Frank Tallis's series...


    "Vienna Blood", "A Death in Vienna", and "Fatal Lies"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2004

    Absorbing and excellently crafted

    Reading Conspirators is a completely engrossing experience. It moves beautifully in and out of the characters' heads; the narrative achieves potent juxtapositions and parallels as it flies across rooms and across town, touching down in disparate consciousnesses. It's amazing how fully the author inhabits each of these minds, even when he¿s in them just for a moment. I completely understood even Maria-Luise. The metaphors in particular were stunning--and stunningly accurate! From the underpainting example in Goya from the first section of the book on, absolute precision. I always paused whenever a 'we' appeared because it was at these moments that the author proceeded to make a profoundly astute observation on the way we all conduct our relationships. He put into words frustrations and hopes that I wasn't sure anyone else shared--and it's that level of recognition on the part of the reader that I think makes books important. And finally, what character portraits--I loved Asher (I laughed out loud during his fevered scene, though I laughed harder at the armor in the end) and even sympathized with Hans in the lovely coda.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004

    dazzling, prize-worthy book

    This novel transcends the ordinary and is utterly absorbing. The characters are wonderful and diverse and Bernstein treats them all with respect -- even the ones that are ridiculous or dangerous receive a careful and generous portrayal. The theme of terrorism and religious zealotry could hardly be more timely -- though part of the greatness of this novel is how it shows the radical impulses of another era without making the characters who longed for some expression of rebellion seem completely alien or ridiculous. The effects of having outgrown such impulses is one of the most fascinating feelings this novel repeatedly explores. Bernstein is masterful in his depiction of people's inner psyches, and the interplay between people's private lives and the workings of history is superbly handled. Wiladowski and Rotenburg (the older one) and Tausk are tour-de-force creations recalling Dostoyevsky and Machiavelli, and Brugger, the rabbi who thinks he might be the messiah, is bizarre and poignant and simply unparallelled. Bravo -- an amazing book. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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