Uncle Rudolf

Written by Paul Bailey
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

A world of equal parts wonder and despair is evoked in this novel of a man’s relationship with his flamboyant, protective guardian. Lives turn on what Bailey describes as “the different fates of two brothers – one knew which way the fascist wind was blowing, the other didn’t.” In 1937 Romania, young Andrei lives with the stigma of being the grandson of the Jewish debt collector. Sudden striking violence transforms Andrei into Andrew, being raised by his internationally famous lyric tenor uncle as an English child.

For Uncle Rudolf, fame and riches do not make up for a life spent in exile and not living up to the early promise of using his gifts in what he considered more significant ways. Yet, Andrew shares himself with his uncle – even to the point of a diminished life for himself – for the balance of his uncle’s life.

Paul Bailey is a master of communicating detail, especially of the transformational effect of art on its audience (“listened in coughless silence to the Mozart Sonata in A Minor” or “with a rapt attentiveness that beatified his features.”) A haunting, lyric novel.