The narrator of today's selection, The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 307 pages, $24), is one of those great characters you can instantly envision in the movie version — or in this case, maybe a sitcom...
Here is Elisabeth Rother, an anti-Semitic German married to a Jewish surgeon, remembering her daughter Renate's childhood piano playing:
"Of course I was enchanted by her. But I did not ever let her see that. It is bad for children to be admired. It makes them think too highly of themselves, and that undermines their character."
And later, after the family has fled Nazi Germany and relocated to New Jersey. Renate is in college:
"She was stubborn. She was ungrateful. She was selfish. She didn't come to see us often. A son would have treated me better, would have been more attached to me."
But for all Elisabeth's complaints, she loves her daughter, her husband, her grandchildren — her life. She's a combination of Archie Bunker, Sophia on "The Golden Girls" and Albert Brooks' mother in the movie "Mother" — practical people who say what's on their minds and worry about the consequences later, if at all.
I found it ironic that Elisabeth is so proud of her Aryan heritage and her aristocratic upbringing because in the end she really comes off as a stereotypical Jewish mother!
Note: The book is listed as fiction but Dische does not bother to change any of the names — including her own. She is Renate's rebel daughter, Irene.