The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal

The Exiles Return cover

The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal was published by Persephone in 2013. This is one of five unpublished novels that the author wrote in the 1950s. The mystery is – why wasn’t it published back then? It’s a really good read and reminded me of Irene Nemirovsky’s writing, although maybe it’s just the subject matter which does that.

Professor Kuno Adler who is a Jew had escaped from Austria when the Nazis took over, he and his wife had gone to America where he got a job teaching, but his wife Melanie has been even more successful as she set up her own corsetiere business, she is brilliant at it making the most of rich women’s less than perfect figures and she earned a lot of money doing it and had fun making disparaging comments about them to their faces. She loves her life there but Kuno decides he wants to go back to pick up his old life again, refugees are apparently entitled to get their old jobs back. Life in America had been a disappointment for Kuno as he had encountered far more anti-Semitic prejudice there than he ever had in Vienna in the 1930s, but going back isn’t as easy as he thought it would be.

Kuno Adler is the most interesting exile I think but there’s also Marie-Theres, a difficult teenager who was born in America to exiled parents. She’s sent off to live with her aunts in Austria for a while and to begin with everything is fine but she gets embroiled with the sort of people that she’s never encountered before and it’s overwhelming for her.

There’s some beautiful descriptive writing of landscape, houses, decor and clothing. I really enjoyed this one, I’m just swithering over whether to give it a 4 or 5 on Goodreads.

Elisabeth de Waal was the grandmother of Edmund de Waal who wrote The Hare with Amber Eyes which was very popular some years ago, but as ever I haven’t read that one – yet. If you have read it maybe you could tell me if I should read it – or not.