A German Jewish family escapes to England for the duration of World War II. After the war, Karl, an aspiring artist, takes his wife and children to a new life in America; his brother, Gustave, maintains the art gallery he established in London. Neither their mother, Elsa, nor Karl’s wife, Julia, feels comfortable in England. Elsa seems not to understand why they fled from Hitler, while Julia yearns to feel more than tolerated. To her young sons, Jacob and Benjamin, the move to America is simply an adventure.
This novel is neither plot-driven nor chronological. Portions of it take place in the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s. The style may not appeal to some: frequently sentences run on, and appear unconnected to preceding ones. Yet the author’s confident prose successfully conveys the family’s dislocation, and the effect this has on its various members. Anyone who values heritage and mourns its undermining will appreciate What Remains.