"I smoked my first cigarette when I was six years old.... Now where the hell can I get a cigarette?"
The year is 1949 and Nora, a prickly, strong-willed survivor of the Holocaust, has just walked off the boat in Haifa with her German daughter-in-law, Louisa. Nora expects to be met by her cousin Bela, a Zionist and war hero she has loved since they were children. But Bela fails to appear, and the women enter an absorption camp for immigrants to await an uncertain future. How will they fit into a society that does not believe in looking back? Louisa, the daughter of Nazi parents, proves a genius at self-invention-in many ways the perfect Israeli. Nora is neither heroic nor optimistic, yet she has no other home. When rumors swirl around the camp, she responds with a cranky and ironic distance that rises like a wall of barbed wire. What is she protecting behind that wall? The past, and its secrets.
In Louisa, Simone Zelitch brings to life, with all the authority and inventive power of an old master, a story of hidden passion, broken dreams, and unexpected reconciliation. Stranded in a new land that asks them to look to the future, both women are forced to face the past and the responsibility each bears for what they have lost. Nora knows how to survive. Louisa must teach her how to forgive.
Boston Globe, October 1, 2000
A grand, brave open-hearted novel that is not afraid of its own ambitions, Louisa is honest, intelligent and highly entertaining.
The steady voices of the characters hold the reader through the strange and unlikely tales of this fascinating book.
Zelitch's talent shines in this well-paced epic novel, and the combination of Nora's frank, realistic voice with romantic imagery is striking and beautiful ashes from a burnt synagogue clinging to Nora's favorite apricot tree, Louisa's angelic voice singing to Nora through a grate to the cellar where Nora hides.
Starred Review. Zelitch's narrative teases with emotional puzzles, and surprises with unexpected developments.
Starred Review. Superb...a seamless interweaving of observation, memory, and imagination...A mature and absorbing story...
Sunday Times (UK)
Talk about finding the silver lining. Here's a novel that spans nearly 50 years of Hungarian Jewish history -- from the empire of Franz Josef through World War II and the Holocaust to the early days of the state of Israel -- and transforms struggle and tragedy into an enthralling tale. By choosing to explore a subject within the shadow of Auschwitz, Simone Zelitch's second novel, 'Louisa,' ambitiously invites comparison with Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel 'The Family Moskat' or William Styron's Sophie's Choice. And, remarkably, Zelitch's book holds its own, thanks to a satisfying plot, vivid characters, a tart narrative voice and a bold conceit.
Pearl Abraham, author of The Romance Reader
...Simone Zelitch's ability to capture the essence of life in pre- and mid-Holocaust Europe...lends new insight to both stories.
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner for fiction
Remember the genius with which Jane Smiley retold the story of King Lear and his daughters on a thousand acres of Iowa farmland? It is with the same such genius that Simone Zelitch transforms the biblical story of the widow Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. What a fine book it is, and utterly compelling.
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