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The Exiles Return

by Daniel Scheffler
Contributor
Tuesday Jan 7, 2014
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"The Exiles Return" is set in occupied Vienna. A dark, frustrating and shadowed place that now lies awake after the dream. In Elizabeth de Waal’s new novel she veers right into the postwar story of "fallen aristocrats, unrepentant Nazis and a culture degraded by violence."

The novel follows a handful of very different people: A Jewish research scientist leaving America, a Greek businessman looking for gold and all things golden, a teenager sent away by her parents in the hope of finding herself (or meaning for that matter), and a young Prince armed with a title that no longer means anything. De Waal, an exile herself, retells her version of the stories she lived through or imagined. These stories burn with truth and are laced with finesse.

De Waal manages to find the humanity in rebuilding. Even when the cards have fallen and the ashes are swept away, she reminds us that hope always remains. Her grandson, Edmund de Waal, started the milieu so beautifully in his bestselling "The Hare with Amber Eyes," and Elizabeth de Waal takes it just that one step further.

A perfect reflection of a moment in our not so distant history, it is told by a gentle soul venturing into the hardships and loves of people in whom you will self-identify. Elizabeth left for England in 1939 and became a wartime and "post-war housewife" spending her time teaching kids Latin and writing novels (in German and English). She dances wildly with the scandals of the time, the bravery of the Viennese people and the romance that has always been associated with the place.

Her grandson said, "My grandmother had spent her life in transit between countries: she kept only the things that mattered to her. And these pages did... This untitled novel, now called The Exiles Return, was not published in her lifetime. In conversation with her about why writing matters, she never revealed what this fact meant to her, and it was only recently that I found this single and extraordinary page:

" ’Why am I making such a great effort and taxing my own endurance and energy to write this book that no one will read? Why do I have to write? Because I have always written, all my life, and have always striven to do so, and have always faltered on the way and hardly ever succeeded in getting published.... What is lacking? I have a feeling for language... But I think I write in a rarified atmosphere. I lack the common touch, it is all too finely distilled. I deal in essences, the taste of which is too subtle to register on the tongue. It is the quintessence of experiences, not the experiences themselves... I distill too much.’"


"The Exiles Return"
Elizabeth de Waal
$26.00
Picador

by Elisabeth de Waal

Daniel Scheffler is a writer who spends his time in New York, Cape Town and India. Follow him on Twitter @danielscheffler

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