The Exiles Return

Will anyone still be reading Fifty Shades of Grey in 50 years’ time? I doubt it, although if they are they will certainly be wondering what all the fuss was about.

In fact, I very much doubt anyone very much will be reading it in a couple of years’ time, except perhaps for curious teenagers plucking it off their parents’ bookshelves to see what their mum and her friends were so obsessed a few years previously. (And they will probably be just as amazed as to the fuss.)

I have nothing personally against the book (although from the little I read it was not going to win any literary prizes) because the same fate probably awaits most of the books published today.

Some will deservedly fall out of print, others will never get the commercial recognition they deserved.

I mention this because The Exiles Return was not actually published at all in the author’s lifetime. It took Persephone Books (and perhaps the success of the author’s grandson – Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare With The Amber Eyes) to bring this story of post-war Vienna to light.

So it is being read (and fully deserves to be read) a couple of generations after it was not published, while no doubt many of its contemporaries (feted at the time) and now languishing in obscurity.

I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere, but for the time being all I can say is that like so many Persephone books I was really entranced by this, the story of three émigrés returning to post-War Vienna.

There are three stories, all told from the protagonists’ point of view: a Jewish intellectual who fled to America, but failed to settle; a Greek looking for business opportunities and the daughter of an emigrant family sent to Vienna to try to help her from her youthful apathy. 

The novel is very evocative of Vienna, the author’s own city and one she had fled in the 1930s for the somewhat less cosmopolitan surroundings of Tunbridge Wells.

But it is the stories that make it so readable, stories of which there must have been hundreds in the years after the War, but which remain relevant and fascinating today.