The Two Hotel Francforts: A Novelby David Leavitt
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It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon, Portugal, is the only neutral port left in Europe-a city filled with spies, crowned heads, and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the SS Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, sophisticated, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. As Portugal's neutrality, and the world's future, hang in the balance, the hidden threads in the lives of these four characters-Julia's status as a Jew, Pete and Edward's improbable affair, Iris's increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage-begin to come loose.
Gorgeously written, sexually and politically charged, David Leavitt's long-awaited new novel is an extraordinary work.
“An artfully crafted story of two marriages . . . Very fine work.” Kirkus Reviews
“We can always count on David Leavitt to bring buried desires to the surface and give the uncertainties of an era startling clarity in his fiction. Here in his glorious new novel, with his characters on the run from war and suspended in a precarious state of exile, he traces their efforts to create meaningful lives amidst the turmoil surrounding them. The result is a book that is artful, gripping, delicate, and fierce.” Joanna Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Follow Me
The main "characters" of this well-crafted and -researched novel are two couples who come to inhabit two hotels of almost identical name in 1940 Lisbon. The theme of expatriates trapped in a neutral city that might at any time fall under the yoke of Nazi Germany brings to mind the classic film Casablanca. Perhaps because our protagonists are not stateless individuals but Americans or Brits (one of whom is Jewish), the novel lacks the dramatic tension of the film, but the real story here is not the relation of the characters to their alien surroundings but to one another. Blessed with independent means, Edward and Iris Freleng and Pete and Julia Winters have all led a peripatetic existence when fate brings them together for a brief period in the Portuguese capital. As the days pass while they wait for a ship to take them to New York, the two men drift into an affair that for complex reasons is abetted by one of the wives, even as readers wonder whether the other wife has caught on. VERDICT Told from different perspectives, this multilayered tale intrigues with its twists and turns of plot and viewpoint. Leavitt's graceful depiction of same-sex romance will have universal appeal. Highly recommended for discriminating readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]—Edward Cone, New York
An artfully crafted story of two marriages from Leavitt (English: Univ. of Florida), whose credits include Family Dancing (1984) and The Indian Clerk (2007), both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The book is set in Lisbon, Portugal, among the refugees, after the outbreak of World War II. Pete and Julia Winters meet Iris and Edward Freleng, and their little dog, Daisy, when Edward steps on Pete's glasses. They are sitting outside the Café Suiça, a place packed with foreigners hoping to escape Europe. While the Winters and the Frelengs have this problem solved--they will travel on the SS Manhattan, an American ship commandeered for the purpose--they have their own problems, and little more than a week to live through them. The Winters have been living in Paris for 17 years. Julia is temperamental, high-strung; she has sworn never to return to New York. The Frelengs are independently wealthy, for many years itinerant; they have for some time been settled in the Gironde, passing the days writing Xavier Legrand mysteries. Edward is unstable; Iris is manipulative; Julia is brittle; and Pete, the narrator, is conflicted--a good man who does a bad thing for the right reasons. Along the way, there is an affair and a fatal tragedy. Very fine work.
- Bloomsbury USA
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Meet the Author
David Leavitt's books include the collection Family Dancing, and the novels The Lost Language of Cranes, While England Sleeps, The Body of Jonah Boyd, and The Indian Clerk (finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award). He is also the author of two nonfiction works, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Florence, A Delicate Case. He is professor of English at the University of Florida in Gainesville and edits the literary magazine Subtropics.
David Leavitt's fiction has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Prize, the National Book Critics' Circle Award and the LA Times Fiction Prize, and shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's and Vogue, among other publications. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he is Professor of English at the University of Florida and edits the literary magazine Subtropics.
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I greatly enjoyed David Leavitt's new book the Two Hotel Francforts. The historical setting (Lisbon in 1940, a limbo country for ex-pats, esp. Americans, during the escalating violence of WW II) is perfectly rendered, and yet the human dynamics--the dynamics which drive any great novel--are what make you want to keep reading. There are all the usual elements of a great novel here--betrayal, intrigue, love (and hopeless, desperate love at that) and yet there is a fresh element to the unfolding of the story that hooked me from the first chapter. I read this book in just a few days, due to its fast pace and engaging characters and story. I would highly recommend it! --Zacc Dukowitz
Interesting chiefly for the historical and geographical setting