I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 7 January 2014.
The Exiles Return, by Elisabeth de Waal, is a resurrected manuscript. Written before the author’s death, it is at last being published. Like most resurrected manuscripts, there are some problems with the pace and there’s a chapter missing its first page, but it’s got a surprisingly modern spark for something that was written in the mid-twentieth century.
Sometime in the early 1950s, three people come to Vienna. One is a returned refugee. The second is a rich American whose father owned property in the Inner City. The third is the child of immigrants who is sent to her Austrian family because she is a “problem child.” The first exile to return is and was a chemist. While his wife has made a success in New York, Kuno Adler has always been waiting until he could go home. When his wife and daughters refuse to leave America, Dr. Adler returns on his own. He takes advantage of the reinstatement policy to get his old job back at his old Institute. His new boss doesn’t care for the intrusion, but he is content to leave Dr. Adler to his work.
The second exile to return, Theophil von Kanakis is so rich that he can afford anything that catches his eye. He has a love of eighteenth century artifacts and young, handsome boys. Von Kanakis gets away with a lot, because he does so much to restore pre-war Vienna. There’s something a little sinister about him, but strictly speaking, von Kanakis doesn’t do anything wrong except try to make his corner of the world elegant and scandal-free. Von Kanakis is a collector and tends to think of the people around him as acquisitions.
The third exile is not actually an exile. Her parents were. Peter and Valery Larson settled into American life so smoothly that they have no intention of returning to Austria. Their daughter, Marie-Theres, however, does not fit in. She doesn’t care for the busy lives of everyone around her, but she doesn’t know exactly what she wants out of life. Her mother sends her to live with her Austrian family at the family schloß. Their laconic way of life suits her well until her cousin becomes engaged and a family friend takes her place as the new, interesting guest.
The three protagonists’ stories touch each other as secondary characters appear and disappear and their stories tangle together. Marie-Theres becomes involved with von Kanakis’ lover. Dr. Adler falls in love with the lover’s sister. De Waal begins her story with a prologue that you’ll quickly discover is the ending of the novel. As the three protagonists’ lives got closer and closer to each other, I began to feel a creeping dread because I knew it was all going to end in tragedy. The Exiles Return is an incredible story–three stories, really. I do wish de Waal had been able to work on it a little more, to edit it down a bit more. If de Waal had, it would have pushed this book from really good to great.