At the end of WWII, Nora Graz, a refugee in the newly formed State of Israel, reflects on her life in Budapest before and during the war. Nora is accompanied to Israel by her daughter-in-law Louisa, the German Christian widow of Nora’s only son, Gabor. Louisa floats in and out of the story almost as a spectre. What little we are told is that Louisa met Gabor while studying music and was with him until his death. During the darkest hours of the occupation, Louisa secreted Nora away, protecting her from deportation.
Nora is the epitome of non-confrontational restraint throughout the novel. In the beginning of her story, she writes to her cousin Bela, who has become a Zionist and hopes to emigrate to Palestine. Nora keeps a box of letters she has never sent to Bela, the content of which reveal a deeper emotional attachment to her cousin than she cares to admit. Meanwhile, her son, Gabor, has become involved with Louisa, a Christian, but Nora remains silent about her unhappiness at her son’s choice of mate. Nora’s husband, Janos, is somewhat of a militant Communist and is largely absent from the family for long periods of time.
After the war ends, Nora decides to find Bela. Louisa, rootless, follows Nora to the refugee camp in the new State of Israel. Initially, it seems that Bela has disappeared, has changed his name and has moved from the kibbutz he helped build. Incredibly, it is Louisa, the almost formless character, who discovers Bela and changes the course of Nora’s life.
The interpersonal conflicts arising in this story make it fertile ground for great character and plot development. Unfortunately, I was disappointed that what could have been an unforgettable story is not. The characters have no self-awareness at all and are detached from reality. Indeed, there are times when I felt more for the characters than they did for themselves.