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The title story illustrates beautifully Ustinov's ability to weave pointed observations into his fiction. "Life is an Operetta" features a young woman, Mitzi, who is obsessed with the stage but poor at choosing lovers, so much so that the one man who can ...
The title story illustrates beautifully Ustinov's ability to weave pointed observations into his fiction. "Life is an Operetta" features a young woman, Mitzi, who is obsessed with the stage but poor at choosing lovers, so much so that the one man who can provide her with security and support is the one who is always left behind.
Readers are offered a tour of the old country and an education in European tradition as the locations of the stories range from Australia, through Spain and France, to the Italian railway carriage of "God and the State Railways," while the characters are equally varied in personality and social status. Combining Ustinov's telling wit and deep understanding of human frailty, Life is an Operetta sparkles with keen perception and a storyteller's delight in presenting well-crafted tales. Also included are "The Frontiers of the Sea," "The Swiss Watch," "Dreams of Papua," "The Assassins," "The Gift of a Dog," "The Silken Dagger," and the tale of a man lost in his own homeland, "The Loneliness of Billiwoonga."
Most of the tales here are European in setting and reflect the world of the late '40s and '50s, with characters who embody every national stereotype. Which would be fine if Ustinov's strained satire worked, but it doesn't—with one exception: "The Assassins," a labored but occasionally amusing riff involving a band of aging anarchists who are sent by the French police to Corsica on vacation every time they threaten to blow up a visiting world leader. The title piece follows the career of Mitzi, a Hungarian singer whose doleful admirer reminds her that "life is not an operetta." The admirer, however, is repeatedly confounded by the remarkably resilient Mitzi, one of those "impossible, dangerous and impervious people" for whom "life is an operetta after all, and can never be anything else." Other stories limn an American president and a Soviet leader, who, at the height of the Cold War, discover that they share a common passion for stamp- collecting, including even the same rare stamps ("Dream of Papua"); a newly married Englishwoman who decides that she's more in love with the dog an old lover gave her as a wedding present than with her boring husband ("The Gift of a Dog"); and a French banker, vacationing in Switzerland, who becomes embroiled in local feuds ("The Swiss Watch"). Most poignant and affecting of all is "The Loneliness of Billiwoonga," which traces the struggles of a concentration camp survivor, his entire family lost in the Holocaust, to establish a new life in a small Australian town. He marries, then finds himself in business with a former Nazi officer, so anxious now to be liked that "every gesture was a bribe, the payment of a debt on the installment system."
Faded period charm.
|The Frontier of the Sea||1|
|The Swiss Watch||26|
|Dreams of Papua||55|
|The Gift of a Dog||134|
|Life Is an Operetta||162|
|God and the State Railways||186|
|The Silken Dagger||212|
|The Loneliness of Billiwoonga||236|