Book Review: Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus
Tomorrow Erika Dreifus, author of the short story collection, Quiet Americans is stopping by the First Line blog for an interview so I thought I’d tell you a bit about her book before she gets here.
I have longed been awed by Erika Dreifus and the time and dedication she gives to the writing community in her Practicing Writing blog and so was thrilled for her when I learned her first book was being published. I suspected that she gave as much dedication to the craft of writing as she did to her other endeavors, and wasn’t wrong. This is an elegant, well-written, thought-provoking collection.
In the seven stories that comprise Quiet Americans Erika Dreifus writes about immigrant survivors of the Holocaust. This collection was inspired, in part, by Dreifus’s own grandparents who left Germany and immigrated to the US in the late 1930s. The stories are ordered by time, beginning in prewar Berlin in, “For Services Rendered” about a Jewish doctor who owes his life, and the life of his family, to Goring’s wife. The stories then weave their way through the decades until reaching post 9/11 in the final story, “Mishpocha” about a man who uncovers a family secret while researching his family tree on the internet.
This is a strong collection and I am reluctant to single out one story to name as my favourite so let me call, “Lebensraum” the story that haunts me most. In this story we find ourselves in Iowa in 1944 with Josef, an immigrant Jewish baker assigned to oversee captured Germans in the kitchen of a prisoner-of-war camp. Each time I reread “Lebensraum” I find something new. There are so many quiet revelations, so many layers tucked within the deceptively straightforward plot that it is like rolling an opal in the palm of your hand and watching the endless play of light within the gemstone.
Since I have a personal fondness for linked stories it was a sweet surprise to discover the delicate thread that runs lightly through this collection, connecting several of the characters. This subtle linking of stories works brilliantly to illustrate how the echo of the Holocaust continues to reverberate down through the generations.
Given the subject matter of these stories you would be forgiven for thinking Quiet Americans might be a depressing read. But it isn’t. Though these stories are rooted in the horror of the Holocaust, they are also stories of love: of the love between men and women, of the love between parent and child. Dreifus has a talent for nimbly moving between darkness and light, and for never letting the reader forget that the world is made not of black and white, but of endless shades of grey.
It is the hope and purpose of literature that in the telling of our stories we build bridges between people, that we foster understanding and compassion. Dreifus does this achingly well in Quiet Americans. It is a wonderful debut collection and I look forward to reading more from Erika Dreifus.
To learn more about Erika visit her website at: www.erikadreifus.com/
Also of note: the author is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of Quiet Americans to The Blue Card, which supports survivors of Nazi persecution and their families in the United States. (www.bluecardfund.org)
And don’t forget to come back tomorrow for my interview with Erika!
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Thank you so much, Lori, for your elegant and thoughtful review! I'm especially touched by your comments about "Lebensraum."
Thank you Erika for writing Quiet Americans!
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