Thirty-five years after publication of her first novel, The Dorp (followed by other works on cooking and gardening), Frieda Arkin returns to the world of fiction to give us another darkly humorous novel, Hedwig and Berti.
Hedwig and Berti is a saga of the totally unlikely marriage of a grandly Teutonic woman, Hedwig Kessler, and her diminutive cousin Berti, two upper-class German Jews forced to leave their homeland during the rise of the Nazis. They flee to London, then to New York City, and from there, finally, to a university town in Kansas. In London, Hedwig gives birth to a daughter whose broodingly dark construction and immense genius for the piano point back in time to the tragedy of her bloodline.
This is a story of prejudice taken to extremes, both within the domain of a severely class-conscious German-Jewish family and beyond it. The characters are subtle, and finely-honed, and their story is told with grace and unexpected humor. Like Penelope Fitzgerald, Frieda Arkin possesses a rare gift for combining love, wit, and dark realism in the reactions and behavior of her characters in the several cultures they are forced to adapt to.