I don’t mind unlikeable characters. As long as I can understand their actions, I can keep reading. The characters who frustrate me are the ones who do the opposite of what I would have or who make what I consider stupid choices. This was my problem with Among the Survivors, by Ann Z. Leventhal. Karla Most, the protagonist, is a woman with extraordinary lucky but who is completely clueless about what she wants out of life and who she wants to be. What made Karla incomprehensible to me is her passivity, especially as it comes to taking care of herself.
Karla was, perhaps, not destined for a life of self-actualization. Her mother dressed her in black from the very beginning, even to the point of dying her diapers black. After her mother dies—a mother who trained to always worry about the Gestapo breaking down her door—Karla is supported by her paternal grandparents. Still, she decides to work as a house cleaner while auditing courses at NYU. She’s on the job one day in the late 1970s, when she becomes transfixed by a Modigliani painting in a client’s bedroom. She is caught looking at the painting by the client, Sax, and the two immediately begin an affair that lasts more than a decade. (I’m really not kidding about the immediate part. They go to bed the very day they meet.)
Karla spends the next decade as Sax’s lover, supported by his largesse and basically continuing her aimless life. Later, she develops a yen to discover what really happened to her mother during the war after she re-discovers a picture of her mother as a young girl standing next to her swastika-wearing father. For me, the book got much more interesting at this point as Karla uncovers her mother’s lifelong secret.
I suppose what frustrates me most about Karla is that she never grows over the course of the novel. She ages from 21 to 37, but only takes a few steps towards finding a life path. Perhaps I didn’t understand her because there’s a lot more telling than showing in Among the Survivors. Perhaps I was annoyed because I kept fining other characters’ stories much more interesting than Karla’s. I’m not sure who I’d recommend this book to, to be honest.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGallery for review consideration. It will be released 22 August 2017.