Walter Abish gained fame with his 1980 novel How German Is It, in which he described life in post-war Germany without ever having set foot within its borders. He is a master of finely crafted, often experimental fictions. Yet helping inspire his art is an almost inevitable fascination with the nation whose twelve year embrace of National Socialism shaped the trajectory of his life. Double Vision is an attempt to grapple with this uneasy relationship with Germany and modern history.
Abish was born into a comfortable middle class home in 1930’s Vienna. His earliest memories reflect a real but evanescent security. But his family was Jewish. When the Germans absorbed Austria into the Third Reich in 1938, the authorities subjected Jews to a sustained persecution. The Abish family fled, and after a long series of moves they found a tenuous security in Shanghai. Abish reached adolescence in a China controlled by the Japanese; after World War II, he spent his young manhood in the fledgling state of Israel.
Abish in Double Vision alternates sharply drawn vignettes of his youth with a subtly observed description of his 1980’s book tour through Germany and Austria. Instinctively a refugee, possessing the observational clarity of the perpetual outsider, Abish discovered a Germany unable to come fully to terms with its past. In Vienna, he confirmed the old truth that you cannot go home again. His narrative, however, ends on a note of affirmation. Abish still has his memories, a humanizing lifeline to family and what is most vital in our lives.