Inspired by the apocryphal biblical book of Tobit, prolific French author Germain (The Book of Nights, etc.) here offers a solemn, atmospheric tale of family loss and redemption set in the provincial Poitevin Marais region of France. For nearly 100 years, Grandmother Deborah, a Jewish migr from Poland, has witnessed the death or disappearance of her relatives, one by one. At the novel's outset, a riding accident decapitates Anna, the wife of Deborah's grandson, Theodore; the disappearance of her severed head plunges Theodore into madness and poverty. After Deborah's death, Theodore and Anna's son, Tobias, is sent to Bordeaux to collect some money owed to Theodore. True to the biblical tale, Tobias meets a modern-day incarnation of the archangel Raphael, an attractive androgyne, and together they embark on a meandering mission. On the way, Tobias falls in love with his ill-starred cousin Sara, whose previous seven suitors have all died mysteriously. Instructed by Raphael, Tobias is able to overcome the curse. Although the plot is stilted--each chapter is preceded by its biblical epigraph, and the novel seems to be following instructions--one reads Germain for the epic power of her prose. The story of Grandmother Deborah's religious anguish is an especially powerful reminder of the weighty, relentless course of history. A peasant woman so overcome with sadness at the death of her family members that she is unable to cry, she begins to confuse the lamb of the Christian altar with the smiling goat Mejdele from her childhood home: "Only that smile succeeded in relieving the burden of tears gathered inside her." (Aug.) FYI: Donougher's translation of The Book of Nights won the TLS Scott Moncrieff Prize for best translation in 1992. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
In this elegant and carefully translated novel, Germain, the French-born author of nine previous novels (e.g., The Medusa Child), combines the grotesque with genuine tragedy in a tale of startling originality. The plot itself is improbable: a woman out horseback riding does not see a wire strung across the road and is instantly beheaded. Her headless body is brought back by the horse, while her son, Tobias, remains out in a storm that has blown up. The father, distraught at not finding his wife's head, suffers a stroke, and the child ends up being raised by his Jewish grandmother, Deborah. As Tobias grows up into manhood, he befriends a young woman whose seven previous lovers died. The archangel Raphael joins Tobias in his travels and enables him to find his mother's head. What this bare-bones summary cannot show is how this superb novel plumbs the depths of human relationships, revealing in particular the importance of family. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.--Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
The most recent (1998) of Germain's highly charged Gothic antiromances set in the French countryside (close kin to her The Book of Nights and Night of Amber) is a quirky retelling of the biblical apocryphal tale of Tobias. Its principal characters-both hyper-real and ineffably striking-include a guileless wayfarer, his pragmatic guardian angel, and a beautiful young woman who is either an innocent virgin or Death's handmaiden on earth (if, indeed, not both). Germain's atmospheric landscapes are clogged with haunting detail, but her people are so freighted with garish eccentricities and mythic resonances that it's often initially difficult to credit their reality. Once you've entered her hothouse fictional world, however, there's no resisting its gorgeous, impossible density and seductiveness. An acquired taste, her ineffably odd books are nevertheless highly accomplished performances.. . .