A Foolish Virgin
In this novel set mostly in Antwerp in the early 1920s, but also in The Hague and Berlin, Gittel is a young Jewish girl living with her rather complicated and argumentative extended family. She is befriended by Lucie Mardell, a twenty-something daughter of a friend of Gittel’s father. She is wealthy and allows Gittel, a talented pianist, to play the family Steinway. Gittel, from whose adolescent perspective the story unfolds, becomes infatuated with Lucie and leads her on to do something, which has wider, big lesson-learning implications.
This is a short, rather anecdotal and partially autobiographical account of Jewish family life that has been widely regarded since its first publication in Dutch in 1959 as a study of Jewish life in that time. But I found it rather superficial and lacking a focus or a central driving narrative. The story is inescapably shadowed by our knowledge of what dreadful experiences awaited the Jewish people in the next two decades, but this is insufficient to offset the essential weaknesses of the narrative that unfortunately mostly failed to grip this reader.