Bruno A., called the Son, who in 1938 is a twelve-year-old schoolboy. He looks on helplessly and with only partial comprehension as his family and their comfortable existence fall to pieces in a world of jarring anti-Semitism. Aching for love and warmth from his estranged parents, the boy has intimations of decay and doom that intensify as he is shunted from provincial home to country resort and back again. In the second part of the novel, he is a middle-aged man. He returns to confront childhood ghosts after the breakup of his marriage in Jerusalem.
Father, an Austrian writer and literary critic. His successes bring joy neither to him nor to his family. A tired, absentminded, surly man, he succumbs to bitterness and paranoia as he is attacked for the sickly Jewish spirit of his writing. His hatred of petit bourgeois Jews and raggedOstjuden (Eastern European Jews) is second only to his fear of being regarded as one of them. As anti-Semitism blocks his career and destroys his self-respect, he soothes his soul with alcohol and impossible dreams of a literary and cultural renaissance. This delusion leads him to abandon his family for a baroness in Vienna.
Mother, a tall, tight-lipped, unhappy woman. She bears her husband’s physical and spiritual distance in stoic fashion and strives to preserve an atmosphere of normalcy and dignity even as Jewishness makes her family an object of derision and loathing. A woman with strong philanthropic impulses, she devotes herself frantically to charitable institutions as her personal life deteriorates. After her...
(The entire section is 679 words.)