Finding Oneself While Trying to Understand the Past
By William H. Gass
Knopf, $28.95, 329 pages
Middle Copens in 1938 Austria, where Rudi Skizzen becomes Yankel and insists his wife change her name, too, to sound more Jewish. So Nita becomes Miriam. Yankel and his family hide in cellars and pretend to be as Jewish as the next person in hopes of being relocated. The family finally gains approval to relocate to England, where Rudi becomes Raymond Scofield in another attempt to find his place in a new society. While in England her husband disappears, and Nita and the two children, Joseph and Deborah, move to Ohio without him. In Ohio Deborah quickly assimilates into American life, but Joseph does not fit in. Joseph struggles with his father’s abandonment and creates a fantasy self. He plays piano, attends college and becomes a professor. Joseph tries to find himself through writings, thoughts and various roles.
William Gass’s book is not for the faint of heart. There are a great deal of rhetorical passages written by Joseph, and the reader must pay close attention to what is going on – his book takes effort to follow. It’s a book about the journey to find happiness, and finding oneself at the same time.
Reviewed by Seniye Groff