Summary and book reviews of Louisa by Simone Zelitch

Louisa

by Simone Zelitch

Louisa
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2000, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2001, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The year is 1949 and Nora, a prickly, strong-willed survivor of the Holocaust, has just walked off the boat in Israel with her German daughter-in-law, Louisa.  Superb...a seamless interweaving of observation, memory, and imagination...A mature and absorbing story...



"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.

Chapter 1


I smoked my first cigarette when I was six years old. I found it on the kitchen windowsill, though the railway platform proved more reliable. The butts I gathered on that platform made terrible, gritty cigarettes, hardly worth re-rolling, yet to my mind, they're all mixed up with where I smoked them, by the tracks. I loved the trains, window after window of Budapesti smokers who would carry cigarettes to theaters, lectures, and cafés. I'd do those things too. But later there would also be smokes passed, like gifts, between strangers in the dark.

Now where the hell can I get a cigarette? Everyone in Israel is a smoker, but nobody gets something for nothing, and what do I have to trade? Not that my head's the clearest. We're just off the boat, Louisa and I, and we expected my cousin, Bela, to meet us at the dock, but he wasn't there. We went through customs, and there were so many of us piling in at once that we were backed up for hours. By the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Is Louisa a love story? If so, whose love story?
  2. Louisa is narrated by Nora, who has no trouble revealing the interior lives of other characters, such as Gabor and Bela. How does Nora get access to this information? As she tells their stories as well as her own, are there certain aspects of their lives that she doesn't understand, or will not admit?
  3. In the camp for new arrivals, several of the Israelis express their disgust for the Holocaust survivors. What might be some of the sources of this attitude? To what extent is it consistent with other aspects of Israeli society as depicted in the novel?
  4. Why does Louisa follow Nora? At the novel's outset, she answers the question by simply saying that she loves her, an answer Nora finds ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

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.

Book Page

The steady voices of the characters hold the reader through the strange and unlikely tales of this fascinating book.

Booklist

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.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. Zelitch's narrative teases with emotional puzzles, and surprises with unexpected developments.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Louisa, try these:

  • The Family Tree jacket

    The Family Tree

    by Carole Cadwalladr

    Published 2005

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    At once nostalgic and refreshingly original, The Family Tree is a sophisticated story of one woman and the generations of women who came before her and whose legacy shaped her life and its emotional landscape.

  • The Distance Between Us jacket

    The Distance Between Us

    by Masha Hamilton

    Published 2005

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A straight-ahead story of human passion—desire, conviction, and the guilt of a survivor—struggling for order within the frayed justice of the Middle East conflict.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Miss Jane
    by Brad Watson

    "Starred Review. Sensitive, beautifully precise prose. Highly recommended." - PW

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!