The Exiles Return

Written by Elisabeth de Waal
Review by Helene Williams

Although the specific characters are fictitious, the lives in this poetically wrenching novel are starkly real. The Exiles Return was written in, and about, a time of great uncertainty and change, as Vienna struggled to right itself after the Anschluss (the Nazi invasion and annexation of 1938), World War II, and the postwar occupation.

Kuno Adler, a Jewish scientist who fled to America before the war, leaves his shrill wife and daughters behind, to take up the Austrian government’s offer of reinstatement in his former profession. Theophil Kanakis, a showy Greek businessman, comes to Vienna to see what money can be made from the wreckage of the city’s society and art; he employs the former socialite but now royal-in-name-only Prince “Bimbo” Grein. Marie Therese (“Resi”) is a beautiful, restless teenager in America, whose parents send her to stay with her aunt and uncle in the Austrian countryside and Vienna in the hopes that she will blossom. Each is seeking to belong, to find their place in this new world. The three interwoven stories spotlight the internal and external rebuilding and growth that has to take place after war.

As the novel was written in the 1950s (and not published until now), the images are fresh reflections of that era in Vienna. Author Elisabeth de Waal was a well-educated young Jewish woman, herself an exile from Vienna during the war, who fought for restitution of her family’s property and art when she returned. The stories here reflect the conflicts of an entire generation of natives and interlopers to Vienna, as they battled to return to, or create anew, a sense of self, identity, and connection.