From the Publisher
“Frau Professor Doktor Rother is stubborn, hypochondriacal, devoid of the slightest sentimentality. . . . She is also, by the way, frighteningly funny. . . . I couldn't get enough of her life story--Irene Dische made me laugh at the shock of it all.” Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil
“An adrenaline-shot of a novel . . . The Empress of Weehawken is sharp as razors on the gradual entrapment of Jews in Germany. It's a classic immigration tale about a family's 'precarious union with America.'” Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
“This book does a number of things beautifully, even brilliantly. . . . The real grandeur of The Empress of Weehawken, however, lies in the narrator's voice. . . . Frau Rother is drawn as accurately as the slice of a surgeon's scalpel.” Amy Wilentz, Los Angeles Times
“The voice of the reprobate-empress here is pitch-perfect. Dische has captured this fictionalized grandmother . . . with pepper and grace.” Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe
Frau Professor Doktor Rother, the narrator of this brutally funny debut, is self-centered, cynical, sarcastic, fiercely proud of her Aryan heritage and incorrigibly anti-Semitic. As a German army nurse in WWI, Elizabeth Gierlich meets wealthy Jewish surgeon Carl Rother and marries him once he converts to Catholicism. They have a "racially impure" daughter, Renate, whom Elizabeth mocks and chastises relentlessly, even as she dotes on her. After the Nazis rise to power in Germany, life for Elizabeth's in-laws becomes precarious ("forced labor was not a high-earning profession"), and Carl's "honorary Aryan" status can't protect him from the SS once he irks them by protesting the forced sterilization of Jews. The Rothers flee to the "less-civilized world" of Weehawken, N.J., where Renate grows up, marries Jewish professor Dische, becomes a successful pathologist and has two children, a boy too intelligent for his own good and a rebellious daughter, Irene, whose adventures, tracked via letters and collect calls home, take her across the Middle East and Africa. Elizabeth dies in 1989, still outspoken and bigoted, and continues to meddle in her beloved daughter's life from Heaven. Dische evokes human failings so skillfully that readers will catch themselves laughing at mankind at its cruelest and darkest. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Three generations of unconventional women figure in this autobiographical novel from Dische (The Job, 2002, etc.). The boundaries separating fiction and memoir are cheerfully trampled by Elisabeth Rother, the author's real-life grandmother, whose narration-fictional, one assumes-maps a maze of recollections with plenty of wrong turns and cul-de-sacs (e.g., what "circumstances so demeaning" prompted granddaughter Irene to sell Elisabeth's heirloom jewelry?). A staunch Catholic of aristocratic Rhineland stock, young Elisabeth marries Carl, a Jewish doctor who at her insistence converts to Christianity. As Hitler's persecution of the Jews escalates from petty indignities to Final Solution, Carl finally heeds Elisabeth's warnings to flee to America. She follows later with daughter Renate, a talented pianist. Once ensconced in New York, Renate struggles to become a physician, meeting husband-to-be Dische in the course of her chemistry studies. A brilliant scientist but a deeply dysfunctional human being, the Jewish Dische is barely tolerated by the Rothers and merely a marginal presence in the lives of Irene and Little Carl. His children's destinies are controlled by Elisabeth and her faithful maid Liesel from the Rothers' suburban New Jersey stronghold. (Renate, a coroner, parents sporadically and incompetently.) Little Carl is a child genius and bookish recluse. Irene grows up wild in the '50s and '60s, gets kicked out of school as often as her forebears and experiments with hippiedom while avoiding sex and drugs. At 17, she explores Europe, then moves on to Libya, where she's stranded during Qaddafi's coup, and to Kenya, where she bluffs her way into a job with Louis Leakey, who thenshoehorns the high-school dropout into Harvard. Through it all, Elisabeth recounts the foibles and follies of her American descendants through befuddled but canny Old World eyes. Rambling and disjointed, but enthralling.