Life Lines - Joseph ViertelLondon: Andre Deutsch, 1982, Hardback in Dust Wrapper.
Condition: Very Good — in Very Good Dust Wrapper. A little wear to the edges of the dust wrapper, a decent copy otherwise.
From the cover: “At the heart of this powerful novel are the life lines that connect one member of a family to another — lines formed not only by blood but also by the tragic and triumphant experience of Jewish life in three countries.
Martin Singer is a rich, influential American, the son of a Supreme Court justice, the grandson of a Russian immigrant who rose from poverty to found the great department store that is still at the centre of the Singer family’s fortune. Martin is a merchant prince — shrewd, handsome, gifted, blessed with a satisfying marriage to the dynamic Jenny. Though afflicted of late by Martin’s serious illness and rebellious son, the Singers are nevertheless supremely sure of whom they are and what they stand for.
Into their well-ordered life of wealth and social prominence comes a sudden appeal for help. From the Soviet Union a man in despair reaches out to them — a man who claims to be their cousin — and whose letters plunge Martin back into the story of his family and the incredible journey of his grandfather from the squalor of Jew Street in Minsk to the shimmer of Fifth Avenue in New York.
For Martin and Jenny Singer, being Jewish is not a problem but a grace note in their full lives. For their cousin Yuri Ivanovich Karpeyko and his mostly Gentile family, survival in the Soviet Union has been made possible only by his first hiding his Jewishness from the Nazis who occupied his city, then denying it to his fellow Communists after the war. For in the Soviet Union the tide has turned against him, a much honoured member of the Party. Ancient, dark Russian anti-Semitism is on the rise, and Yuri — war hero, renowned professor of pediatrics, son of an illustrious Bolshevik leader — is now accused of ‘Zionism’. The charge is a political move on the part of an enemy of his father’s. Yuri and his wife, Cleo, are harassed and threatened; Yuri loses his job; their daughter is dismissed from medical school; their apartment is searched and Yuri at last is summoned to KGB headquarters, where he spends three harrowing days. Never before much of a Jew, much less a Zionist, he begins to wonder about his origins and defiantly seeks help from active Zionists in Minsk. Out of desperation, he finally decides to emigrate before he is imprisoned and writes to his American cousin, Martin, whom he has never met, for help. Martin sends word to their cousins in Israel, where the Singers have equally distinguished relatives.
Both the Americans and the Israelis, in typically different ways, set about trying to rescue Yuri. We discover the secret of each branch of the family. As the Americans bring pressure upon their government to come to Yuri’s aid, the Israelis resort to a daring rescue plan.
As the all-powerful Soviet bureau-cracy, which has driven Yuri from his job, his home and his family, closes in on his freedom, we watch him at the crossroads, offered the chance of a dangerous escape and an agonizing choice: should he go to the parochial safety of Israel, with all its hardships, or to America, with its diversity and material comforts, to live among people who might any day turn against him? Or should he accept imprisonment and become a symbol, thereby nudging Russia closer to becoming a safer, more humane and just country?
Yuri’s struggle, his choice, the Singers’ rediscovery of their family’s past and the demands of their blood ties change not only Yuri’s life but the lives of all the Singers, bringing them together and re-creating in each of them a deeper knowledge of their common roots… and of the responsibility each bears for the others, across barriers of three cultures, three languages and three nationalities. They — and we — discover the essence of being Jewish in our time.”