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on 21 April 2013
Having read "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Elisabeth de Waal's grandson I was expecting a rather sad book about the trials when trying to recover looted property taken from the Viennese jews after the anschluss in 1938, as I knew that Elisabeth had tried to do just this, and it was largely a fruitless exercise. It IS a book about exiles returning after the 2nd world war, and people who stayed in Vienna, all of whom find their circumstances very much changed, but the stories of the protagonists are very personal ones, scandulous, romantic, brave and altogether not what I was expecting. I marvelled at Elisabeth de Waal's command of the English language, her descriptions of the Austrian landscape are wonderful and the narrative skips along, the threads of the story coming together at the end in a most satisfactory manner. An original and fascinating tale. For people who are fans of many of Persephone books, this is one to enjoy
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on 26 May 2016
Really enjoyed this book and have passed it on to another friend who says she is enjoying it too.
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on 13 November 2014
An interesting story line, writing about experiences which former ex patriated Jewish people encountered on their return to their 'home' land.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 July 2013
Edmund de Waal is the author of word-of-mouth bestseller, The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. In his preface to his grandmother Elisabeth de Waal's wonderfully empathetic novel, he writes:

"My grandmother had spent her life in transit between countries: she kept only the things that mattered to her. And these pages did...This untitled novel, now called The Exiles Return, was not published in her lifetime. In conversation with her about why writing matters, she never revealed what this fact meant to her, and it was only recently that I found this single and extraordinary page:

"'Why am I making such a great effort and taxing my own endurance and energy to write this book that no one will read? Why do I have to write? Because I have always written, all my life, and have always striven to do so, and have always faltered on the way and hardly ever succeeded in getting published....What is lacking? I have a feeling for language...But I think I write in a rarified atmosphere. I lack the common touch, it is all too finely distilled. I deal in essences, the taste of which is too subtle to register on the tongue. It is the quintessence of experiences, not the experiences themselves...I distill too much.'"

Mr de Waal continues: "Elisabeth de Waal was Viennese and this is a novel about being Viennese. As such, it is a novel about exile and about return, about the push and pull of love, anger and despair about a place which is part of your identity, but which has also rejected you. The Exiles Return is alive to this complexity and it stands, in part, as a kind of autobiography in its mapping of these emotions...But above all the book is about the heartbreak of returning."

Finally, a quote from the book itself. Valery, who has emigrated with her husband to America, names her daughter Marie-Theres after her mother, because the name "embodied everything she wished to remember of the old Austria, of her country's and her family's greatness, as a tiny phial of concentrated scent may preserve and penetrate for years to come alien fabrics and alien habitations with the faint but unmistakable memory of its odour."

Thank you to Edmund de Waal for his moving preface and to Persephone for publishing this book.
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on 10 July 2013
If you read and loved The Hare With Amber Eyes, then you should read this. If you have ever spent time in Austria and fallen in love with it, then this is for you. If you were intrigued by The Third Man, if you are interested in that strange time between the end of the war and the re-opening of the Staatsoper, this is your book. if you like clever, poignant love-stories, or if you prefer a bit of grit in your oyster, this is for you too. This is a perfectly wonderful book and I cannot understand why it isn't on everyone's summer reading list. It's not one you can gobble up in an afternoon, but it's one you will only want to put down because you don't want it to end too soon. I can't recommend it too highly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 December 2013
'The Hare with Amber Eyes', Edmund de Waal's celebrated work of family history, prepared the way for the publication of this fine European novel, which, unaccountably, had been languishing in the family archives for fifty years or more, having been turned down by many short-sighted publishers.

De Waal describes it as 'profoundly autobiographical', which perhaps helps explain its assured tone, its evocative descriptions, and its emotional resonance. Vivid memories of his book inevitable sets up expectations about his grandmother's novel. Will it be a family saga drawing on the Ephrussi archives? A tale of a great dynasty shattered by wars, its survivors struggling back to root among the ruins for the remains of what was once theirs? There are elements of this story in the novel, of course; but in fact it's more a concentrated study of three very different exiles returning to Vienna after the second world war. Among other things, they become defined by their search for love and sex, though at least two of them are not aware of this for some time after they arrive.

Waal thinks that at the heart of the novel is Professor Adler, with whom it starts. He returns from America, leaving his unsatisfactory family behind, to take up a post in the laboratory where he worked before the war, though now not as its director but as its second in command. He keeps himself detached at all levels of his life - which serves him well when he finally clashes with his new boss, who is a closeted Nazi (their much deferred ethical discussion is brilliantly done). He maintains his aloofness until he falls in love with his self-effacing assistant. Adler's story is brief but it is done with great clarity and authority.

The second exile is Resi, a naïve 19 year old ex-pat American sent by her parents to stay with her aunts and cousins in Vienna; the plan is to redirect her life and give her some new experiences. She is trusting, beautiful and impressionable, and she soon attracts the men. Three, in particular, decide her fate: Kanakis, the third exile, a rich, calculating, middle-aged, closeted gay; Lucas, a handsome descendant of a family servant, who is hopelessly in love with her; and Prince Grein, a beautiful faun-like but heartless boy whom she falls for and who leads her unwittingly to her (melodramatic) downfall. For me, the sacrificial Resi is at the heart of the book: it feels as if she is the character who is closest to the author.

Kanakis, the third exile, is the least developed of the three. He's a new breed, representing the power of money to buy up what's left of the old aristocracy. The fact that he's gay and powerfully attracted to the elusive Grein is interesting in a novel of this period, though it's dealt with by veiling too much and is handled with a tentativeness not apparent elsewhere - it's as if the author was nervous of straying into such 'dark' territory. Apart from the Nazi, he's the nearest the book has to a villain.

The lives of these three converge and weave, though it takes quite a while for the connections to emerge, and the Adler story never really integrates with the rest. There are many other vividly drawn characters - Resi's aunts, for instance, her parents, cousins and their boyfriends. The whole novel moves forward with great elegance and narrative assurance. It's profoundly European, dealing as much with the 'essences' of life as its contingencies.

Closing the book, I had the feeling that structurally it's a little awkward. It might have been better to have dealt with the three strands more separately, as linked novellas perhaps, starting with the Adler story to introduce the theme of the exiles' return and to set the scene, continuing with Resi's story, and then using the Kanakis/Grein liason as the subject of the third novella, revealing what was going on behind Resi's back and which ultimately led to her downfall. But we have the novel as it stands and we must be grateful for that.

Edmund de Waal in his preface says his grandmother wrote four other novels, all unpublished. If any of them are as good as this one, I hope Persephone Books will publish more of her work. She's an author - a real find - whom I definitely want to read more of.
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on 7 April 2013
I was intrigued by The Exiles Return as soon a I saw it written about, as a forthcoming Persephone Book last autumn. The authors name was familiar, because it was her grandson who wrote The Hare With Amber Eyes, a book that I think everyone in the world but me had read. But this was a book that hadn't been read, though the author made every effort to get it into print.

And yet it holds stories that have been little told. Stories of exiles returning to Austria after the war, when the country regained its independence. Fascinating stories, that are quietly compelling because they are much more than stories. They are testimonies created from the authors own experiences.

There are three main strands. There is a Jewish professor who had taken his family to America when he saw danger at home; they thrived in their new life but he did not, and has returned alone. There is an entrepreneur, of Greek descent, who is returning to a city where he believes he will find business and social openings. And there is an American girl, the daughter of immigrants, who has been sent to stay with relations in the hope that it would pull her out of what seemed to be apathy with her life.

And in consequence there are three very different stories, told in different styles. I questioned the shifting narrative at first, but as I read I came to realise that it was very, very effective. It emphasised that so many lives were affected, in so many ways, and that there would be countless consequences.

There are so many moments that I could pull out.

Professor Adler's realisation that he really had come home. His later realisation that home had changed, in ways he had not anticipated. Most of all his realisation that there were people who had supported what he saw as an evil regime among his friends, neighbours and collegues.

For me Professor Adler was the emotional centre of the story. He was an intelligent and sensitive man, and he saw that the years he spent in exile could not be made up, that her would always be a little out of step with those who had stayed. The telling of his story was pitch perfect and utterly moving.

Resi's story touched me too. She blossomed as she met her Austrian family, as she learned new things about her family background, and it was lovely to watch her living happily, in the country, with her cousins. It was the family's move to the city that took the desperately pretty Resi out of her depth, and kicked off the plot that would bring the different strands of the story together.

That plot didn't quite work, it felt a little over dramatic after the subtle and thought-provoking writing that has come before. And I was unconvinced that Resi would have acted as she did at the very end. But that by no means spoiled things, and I am more than ready to believe that a dramatic plot might have been necessary to sell a book about the consequences of war when it was written, years ago.

The Exiles Return is not the best written or the best structured novel on Persephone's list. But it is as heartfelt, as honest, and as profound, as any of the one hundred and one titles it joins.

Essential reading.
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on 1 January 2015
I loved this book - made me cry. Beautifully written - a masterpiece.
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on 26 February 2014
I very much enjoyed the book, particularly after reading The Hare with Amber Eyes, which included so many references to Edmund de Waal's family background. Thus it was intriguing to be reintroduced to his grandmother, this time as the author of fiction heavily influenced by her own experiences. It was a compelling read, and Professor Adler in particular was a beautifully drawn character. Resi presented more of a puzzle, and was less well-developed. Like other reviewers I could not accept that the character - so passive for much of the book- would act in the way that she did in the denoument. More skilled was the descriptive handling of Vienna itself immediately after the war, which was really evocative and delicately done. I certainly felt that I would like to read more of this author if the manuscripts of her other unpublished work were available. The Persephone publishing house does such a great job of introducing us to little known authors, and in producing such lovely pieces of print, thoughtfully designed right down to the typefaces and endpapers which are usually fabrics or wallpaper designs from the period of the book itself. I read e-books and tree books, but Persephone always gives me my fix of paper book, and I keep every one!
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2014
From start to finish this is a wonderful book. The depiction and journey of foreboding and rediscovery of ones roots and sense of self and place coupled with the ruins of war and time that has passed makes this story so intriguing. It take the reader on a journey and fills in description of a war ravaged Vienna in 1954 and the social state of the inhabitants and the returnees. Great novel, Wonderful intertwining characters and story. Beautiful style of writing found it very difficult to put down and will read it again and again.
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