What a gift for a writer to be able to sustain unflagging, sweaty-palm suspense in a novel almost through character alone. This is what the prodigious Lev Raphael pulls off in The German Money, a mystery whose "shocking denouement," as one jacket blurb calls it, comes way late in the novel. Yet the moment is so organic to the whole thing that it feels as if a boiling volcano has finally let loose.
Raphael applies his talents as a suspense writer (he is the author of five mystery novels in addition to the short story collection Dancing on Tisha B'Av) to this unconventional Holocaust novel, a family drama about the upheaval caused by a million-dollar legacy of German reparations money. The passive, introspective narrator, Paul Menkus, is a 42-year-old Michigan librarian who travels home to Manhattan after a heart attack claims his mother, Rose, a Holocaust survivor. He's the sole heir of her reparations-based fortune, which brings him into conflict with his younger siblings, underachieving, bisexual Simon and beautiful but difficult Dina, whose marriage is failing. Rose was in good health when she died, and Paul's inquiries into her death provide an element of suspense. The family interactions range from turgid to poignant, but overall Raphael successfully captures the family dynamic. He also adds narrative momentum with a romantic subplot (Paul reunites with old flame Valerie, a Holocaust memoirist who stayed close to the family after the couple's postcollege breakup). But Paul's mother remains an underdeveloped, shadowy figure, and the specifics of her Holocaust experiences are only sketchily outlined in the closing chapters. The climax, which hinges on a revelation delivered by a seemingly sweet elderly neighbor who played a pivotal role in Rose's demise, is rushed and farfetched. Raphael never quite delivers on the potential of his premise, but the sharpness of the family portrait and the appeal of the romantic subplot make this an engaging read. 15-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Much has been written about the problems facing children of Holocaust survivors. In this quirky novel, Raphael (Little Miss Evil), whose own parents were survivors, explores a particularly dysfunctional family. Paul's mother has never discussed her experiences during the war. He and his two siblings are estranged, and they are all unsuccessful at the art of living happily or well. When their mother dies unexpectedly, the three come together in New York to argue, accuse, and search for the vestiges of a family life they never really experienced. Complicating any hope of reconciliation is their mother's will, which leaves the bulk of her estate, $1 million in untouched German reparation money, to Paul. Although the novel is quite readable, Paul is a self-absorbed, unappealing protagonist (he complains about having chosen librarianship as a career!), and the resolution of the mystery concerning his mother's life and death, plus the exorcism of his own personal demons in the last 20 pages, are precipitous and difficult to believe. Purchase for public libraries with extensive collections of Jewish fiction.-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A fictional take on Raphael's chronicles of the lives of Holocaust survivors' children. It seems almost as if Paul Menzus was born on the occasion of his mother's death. Returning to New York a few days after her funeral to meet with his siblings-beautiful, bitchy Dina, whose wealthy Quebecois husband got her to leave her job as a book editor, and screwed-up, bisexual Simon, who drives a cab in Queens-he says nothing of anyone or anything not intimately connected to his mother's demise, except to sing the praises of rural Michigan and to regret the loss of Valerie Hoffman, the girlfriend he abandoned to move there. His narrative, as airless as his parents' closed-up apartment on West End Avenue, focuses so exclusively on his memories of his mother, a bleak, carping Holocaust survivor, that it seems a miracle when Valerie appears, still unmarried, and accepts his dinner invitation. Even at dinner, Paul obsesses: Why wouldn't his mother speak of her experiences during the war? Why did a healthy woman die suddenly of a heart attack? And why did she leave him her reparations-the tainted "German money" Dina wants him to share, money that threatens to rip apart his remaining family? A constricted tale of unresolved mourning only partly redeemed by the clever twist Raphael (Burning Down the House, 2001, etc.) saves for the end.