The Silent Woman
In the summer of 1914, the love affair between Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler, is unraveling. Oskar’s passion for his beloved Almi knows no bounds. Faced with the knowledge that her ardor is waning, he makes a last ditch effort to impress Alma by obtaining a commission in the army, hoping to come home a war hero.
Four years later, wounded, shell-shocked and deeply tormented by memories of his great love, Oskar arrives in Dresden. Unable to paint, he descends further into depression, obsession and madness. His savior is his landlord’s housekeeper, a simple, unassuming girl from the country. Hulda, whom he renames Reserl, sees to it that he is fed and cared for. Moreover, she aids him loyally in his bizarre attempt to recreate his life with Alma.
Susan Dodd reveals the roots of Kokoschka’s mania using a combination of flashbacks, letters and narrative revelation. Certain phrases and images recur like leitmotifs throughout the novel. The post-WWI setting punctuates though doesn’t define the novel. The emotional and physical wounds Oskar suffered in battle are nothing compared to the pain inflicted by Alma’s betrayal. This novel of unrequited passion, loss and recovery will create a lasting impression.