In Babylon

By ,

It’s easy to see why In Babylon already has been lauded by European critics and has garnered numerous awards on that side of the Atlantic. This book has many of the elements of a family saga, yet to call it by that term would be a tragic dismissal of this major literary work.

Jewish writer Nathan Hollander has lived a transient existence most of his life. Then his erudite uncle, a sociologist and philosopher, dies, leaving his house to Nathan. There is a requirement to be fulfilled before Nathan can claim the closest thing to a home he has ever known. He must write his uncle’s biography. Thus, at age sixty, he returns to the big, old house where so many of his cherished memories dwell, bringing with him his thirty-year-old niece and agent, Nina. The last two surviving members of the Hollander family, Nathan and Nina arrive at the isolated residence in the midst of a fierce winter storm. They soon find themselves snowed in.

The pair are surprised to find that, despite the house having been unoccupied for some time, the larder is newly stocked with every provision they could possibly need for an extended stay. The only thing missing is the firewood that should have been stacked outside. Curiouser still is the amazing agglomeration of furniture piled precariously on the stairway and second floor landing. Forced to burn priceless antiques in order to survive, Nathan and Nina soon discover that this mountain of furniture is actually an elaborate booby trap. Someone has been in the house very recently. But who?

To relieve the strain of their confinement, Nathan shares the story of his uncle’s life. He begins at what to him is the logical place – with Chaim and Magnus, two seventeenth-century ancestors who have been appearing to Nathan as ghosts since he was ten years old. Nina learns the fascinating history of a family that is at home everywhere, and nowhere – a family which may well end with herself and Nathan.

Sweeping yet profoundly intimate, In Babylon shows us a man searching for a home near the end of a wandering life, a woman searching for her place in a family she scarcely knows, and two people struggling to survive against the whims of nature and an unseen human enemy. Marcel Möring renders this powerful story with striking originality and a deft intricacy of plot.

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