Saturday, July 26, 2014

Double Exile by Yoko Morgenstern, reviewed by Tanaz Bhathena

Red Giant Books, paperback $13.95, just released! Available through Amazon here.

Yoko Morgenstern’s debut historical novel is an engaging take on the story of German writer Hans Carossa, a man best known for his poetry, autobiographical novels and Inner Emigration in the 1940s – a self-imposed exile some German artists went through during the Second World War by refusing to participate in public activities – a silent protest against the Nazi regime.   

The novel begins in the year 2009, with a young Japanese woman named Ayumi who travels to Germany to complete her college thesis and battle her own personal demons – by analyzing Hans Carossa’s life and writings to discover if the writer was in fact a Nazi supporter, as people accused him of being.

Ayumi’s journey leads her to an old librarian named Alex, a man whose father was a close friend of the mysterious Carossa. Moving back and forth in time, the novel tracks the lives of Hans Carossa and Alex’s father, Max Breidenstein, and their silent, secretive protests against Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. It is a time when books are being burnt in bonfires, when freedom of expression has ceased for writers, leaving them with one of three choices:

To leave the country.
To stay and accommodate.
To stay and be silent.

Yoko Morgenstern
Carossa’s silence quickly becomes an element crucial to his survival, even though it brands him a National Socialist in the years to come. Max, on the other hand, is realizing his own dreams of being a writer, but at the cost of his work being perpetually censored by the government.

 The two men offer fascinating perspectives into the history of the Third Reich and its silent rebels: men who communicate secretly with Jewish friends in North America, men who eventually band together to rescue a Jewish writer and his family from concentration camps in France.

While his secret rebellion offers him comfort, Carossa is forced to participate more and more in frequently in government propaganda, eventually accepting a post as president of the European Writers Association, the German answer to International PEN. Max has his own troubles when his affair with the wife of a Nazi official comes to the attention of the authorities and his lover goes missing. 

Morgenstern prose is simple and elegant, her characterization subtle and compassionate. The novel, though rich in historical detail, does not overwhelm the reader. To those unfamiliar with the history of Inner Emigration and the role of writers in Nazi Germany, Double Exile offers another worldview – leaving behind a question about silence – if it is truly cowardice or simply another way of showing that there were no heroes in this world, only humans.

Note: Red Giants Books is an independent publisher of literary fiction and nonfiction based in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s run by co-publishers Rob Jackson and Dave Megenhardt.

Tanaz reading at CJ's Cafe
Tanaz Bhathena writes Middle Eastern and South Asian fiction. She is the winner of the 2009 MARTY for Emerging Literary Arts and a semi-finalist for the 2013 Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Witness, Room Magazine, and Asia Literary Review. She has most recently completed her first novel.


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