Ger­man for Trav­el­ers: A Nov­el in 95 Lessons

Norah Labin­er

  • Review
By – December 22, 2011

In nine­ty-five brief chap­ters, this nov­el acquaints us with an extend­ed fam­i­ly and its secrets, past and present. In 2005, a let­ter from a woman claim­ing to be their great-aunt prompts Jew­ish-Amer­i­can cousins Eliza Berlin and Louisa Lemon” Leopold to trav­el to Ger­many. There, at the begin­ning of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, their great-grand­fa­ther, Dr. Jozef Apfel, was a promi­nent psy­cho­an­a­lyst. The nov­el reveals secrets and trau­mas with­in the lives of the cousins as well as the truth behind their great-grandfather’s most mys­te­ri­ous case, that of Elsa Z.” At var­i­ous times, the read­er will notice what seems to be the sparest of expos­i­to­ry prose (the body of one chap­ter con­sists of a sin­gle twelve-word sen­tence); occa­sion­al­ly, there is a page-length para­graph; some sec­tions par­tic­u­lar­ly impress with their use of dia­logue or detail. Although some read­ers may ini­tial­ly find it dif­fi­cult to track all the char­ac­ters, over­all, the nov­el is extreme­ly engag­ing, shift­ing in time and place with art­ful con­nec­tions and lit­er­ary grace. Chronology.

Eri­ka Drei­fus’s lat­est book, Birthright: Poems, was pub­lished by Kel­say Books in Novem­ber 2019. Her short-sto­ry col­lec­tion Qui­et Amer­i­cans was named an Amer­i­can Library Association/​Sophie Brody Medal Hon­or Title for out­stand­ing achieve­ment in Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. An Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Baruch Col­lege of The City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, Eri­ka is deeply engaged with and con­ver­sant in con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture, pub­lish­ing, and Jew­ish writ­ing. She is also the edi­tor and pub­lish­er of The Prac­tic­ing Writer, a free (and pop­u­lar) e‑newsletter that fea­tures oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources for fic­tion­ists, poets, and writ­ers of cre­ative nonfiction. 

Discussion Questions