Reunion by Fred Uhlman
|Reunion by Fred Uhlman|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Exquisite, brave, daring, beautifully written and with a twist which smacks you. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 96||Date: August 1997|
|Publisher: Vintage Classics|
Hans Schwarz was a Jew and attended the Karl Alexander Gymnasium, the most famous grammar school in Wurttemberg. At sixteen he didn't really have a friend and was slightly apart from the other cliques in his class, until the arrival of Konradin von Hohenfels, the elegantly-dressed son of the aristocracy. For some reason Hans and Konradin became the best of friends, spending a glorious summer walking in the Swabian hills, comparing their coin collections and talking about everything. Only slowly does it occur to Hans that whilst Konradin is made welcome in his home, Hans can only visit Konradin's home when his parents are absent. This was February 1932 and in the closing years of the Weimar Republic.
How do you talk about a perfect book? How much more can you say other than 'read it - it's amazing'? Written in 1960, the book is not autobiographical, but there are elements of autobiography in the telling. Fred Uhlman attended the Karl Alexander Gymnasium and whilst he is not Hans, Konradin is a composite of the aristocratic boys and their parents whom he encountered. And Konradin, despite his effortless superiority, is an engaging young man. It isn't his fault that his very title changes the characters of adults - the boys' teacher, Hans' father - and not for the better.
The background to the story is the rise of Hitler and anti-semitism, but it is just that - the background - and it never dominates the story of the two boys and their friendship. It's an affectionate portrait with a subtle understanding of the relative positions of the two boys, the one middle class and the other aristocratic, and an examination of the nature (and limits) of their friendship. And it's all done delicately and with great sensitivity.
It's concise - there's not a word which doesn't earn its keep. To say that it's restrained suggests that there's something missing and there isn't, but I can think of no better way of explaining how Uhlman gives us only what's essential, but that this pared-down version tells you all that you need to know. Whilst what is happening in Germany doesn't dominate the story you know that the boys cannot remain untouched by what is happening. For a novella - the story covers 72 pages - the characterisation is stunning and it's not just the two boys. What more do you need to know about Hans' mother than that she was perfectly content in a state of muddle and would give money to the Jews for the assistance of Jewish children in Poland, and to the Christians for the conversion of Jews to Christianity? Or that his father was a Jew who loved Germany?
I read the book in one sitting. Then I went back and read it again. And when I got to the end for the second time I was still stunned by the twist in the final paragraph. It's a story which stays with you long after you've finished reading and one which I know I will return to in future. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
After perfection it's difficult to recommend another book, but you might enjoy an alternative history of what might have happened without the First World War: Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I by Richard Ned Lebow.
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