The Prince of West End Avenue by Alan Isler
Edited by Bridge Works Editor-in-Chief Barbara Phillips with assistance from Alexandra Shelley.
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, debut novel of an author Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has called "a natural."
"Rich and complex... supremely original." -Los Angeles Times
Memories of past sorrow and misspent passion come unbidden to an elderly Holocaust survivor in this elegant novel, when a woman bearing a resemblance to an old love joins the staff at a retirement home located on Manhattan's Upper West Side. While most of the residents of the Emma Lazarus home are busy squabbling over the casting and the direction of Hamlet, Otto Korner, challenging ghosts of his own, feels appropriately cast as the Gravedigger. A published poet at 19, and unable to serve in the army, he is sent to Zurich by his family at the advent of World War I. There he meets a thoughtful, bookish Lenin, an ``unmannered oaf'' named James Joyce, and is an unhappy midwife at Tristan Tzara's birthing of the Dadaist movement. It is there, too, that he becomes obsessed with the high-spirited, scornful Magda Damrosch, whose likeness he sees 60 years later in the ``dull, empty-headed'' physical therapist from Cleveland. His placid, unreflective life at the retirement home, already shaken, is further disturbed when a prized letter from the poet Rilke, praising his ``precocious talent,'' is stolen. Someone begins sending clues in verse-- ``charades,'' he calls them--and they tax both his literary and personal memory. Isler moves smoothly from war to war and to the present, with Korner moving among memories of his youth; of his two wives (``both...were cremated, only one of them by her own request''); of his emigration in 1947 to New York, where he found his sister hanged in her kitchen (``I stuffed Lola's memory high on the closet shelf with the rest of my past and closed the door tightly''); and of his quiet, uneventful years at the New York Public Library where, ironically, he was placed in charge of materials published in Germany between 1929 and 1945. A delicious, evocative, gentle debut, written in prose to be savored and cherished.