|Aryeh Lev Stollman's first novel, set in early 1960s Windsor, Canada, is a deep tale of isolation, secrecy, and eventual self-acceptance. Alexander's high-strung mother worries that he spends too much time on his own, a fear that seems almost ironic in view of the family's closed circle. Her best friend, Berenice, and her husband have no children--and Alexander eventually teases out the reason: the Cantor and his twin, Hannalore, were tortured in Auschwitz by Dr. Mengele. Hannalore works across the river in Grosse Pointe, as chief housekeeper for Henry Ford II, and now keeps her religion to herself--to the point of wearing a gold cross. "She once explained to my mother and Berenice, 'When I walk down a street it is only me, old Mademoiselle Hannalore, comprends? and I am practically, deliciously invisible. A happy and contented ghost.'" In fact, none of Alexander's role models are happy, and all are burdened by the Holocaust. |
The Far Euphrates is a beautiful, riddling examination of familial pain and fear and religious passion. Alexander's rabbi father uses the Bible to instruct him in language's beauties and complexity: "My father had started reading Genesis with me, slowly, in its original tongue, where the dotted vowels clustered like bees around the honeyed consonants. We read each sentence together, carefully, first in Hebrew, then in English, and finally in German." But Alexander is also aware of language's dangers and religion's rigidity. Later in the novel, following one tragic revelation too many, he has "the unpleasant feeling that even loving words are dangerous." And if words are dangerous, what about the historical and emotional reality they attempt to express? Stollman takes on large subjects in a small, heightened setting. In lesser hands, his quiet opera would descend into melodrama. Stollman doesn't even skirt that possibility.