Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

I'm a huge fan of the movie Casablanca.  If you haven't seen it, it is set in the city of Casablanca in the early 40's, where refugees fleeing Europe wait for passage to safety.  There's intrigue and romance and sacrifice and of course, danger.

I picked up The Two Hotel Francforts because on the surface, it seemed to have a lot in common with the classic film. Set in neutral Portugal instead of North Africa, it tells the story of two couples trying to get away from Nazi Europe.

Pete and Julia Winters' marriage is in trouble - Julia always swore she would never go back to the U.S., and is pushing to stay in Europe, even though her Jewish heritage puts her at risk.  Edward and Iris Freleng have made a life of drifting from place to place, playing manipulative sexual games. These couples meet by chance in Lisbon where Pete and Edward begin a complex, often painful affair as they wait for their passage out.

The intrigue here is personal, not political, and the focus is not the exercise of power on the world stage, but within the relationship of husband and wife and of chance-met strangers drawn together in obsessive romance.

For another reflective, bittersweet look at this period, also featuring a man struggling with sexual identity, try The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov.

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