Mid-summer, 1948. Two strangers, Anna Beer and young Robert Seidel, meet on a train as they return to Vienna, where life is just resuming after the upheavals of war. Men who were conscripted into the German army are filtering back home, including Anna’s estranged husband, Dr. Anton Beer, who was held prisoner in a brutal Russian camp. But when Anna returns to their old apartment, she finds another man living there and her husband missing.
At his own house, Robert is greeted by a young maid with a deformed spine. The household is in disarray, with his mother addicted to narcotics and his stepfather, an industrialist and former Party member, hospitalized after a mysterious attack.
Determined to rebuild their lives, Anna and Robert each begin a dogged search for answers in a world where repression is the order of the day. Before long, they are reunited as spectators at a criminal trial set to deliver judgment on Austria’s Nazi crimes.
In The Crooked Maid, Dan Vyleta conjures up a city haunted by its sins and a people caught between the needs of the present and debts owed to the past.
Set in Vienna in 1948 when the scars of WWII were fresh, Vyleta's well-crafted but overly elliptical new novel (after The Quiet Twin) begins with a chance encounter. Robert Seidel, "exiled" at his Swiss boarding school during the war and on his way home, meets Anna Beer, an older woman returning to Vienna to look for her estranged husband, a psychiatrist and former POW in a Russian camp. Seidel's household is darkly comic and highly dysfunctional: his mother insane, his father in a coma, his brother in jail for trying to murder the father, the family tenuously held together by the brusque street smarts of Eva Frey, the maid of the title (she has a deformity of the spine). The plot plods along, powered by the vaguest whisperings of suspense (Where is Beer's husband? What happened during the War? Is Robert's brother guilty?), but Vyleta's goal seems to be to couple a Graham Greene like atmosphere of suspicion and fear with a European intellectual novelistic endeavor (the story is a parable of guilt and reconciliation). Farcical, Kafkaesque, and teeming with odd leitmotifs (crows play a symbolic role), this novel could benefit from stronger storytelling and less symbolism, but should appeal to fans of writers like Heinrich B ll.
The Crooked Maid
Set in post war Europe the Crooked Maid tells the story of a young man's return from boarding school and a sheltered, protected life to his home in Vienna following the suspicious death of his step father at the alleged hands of his step brother. The story introduces a cast of interesting characters and gives each one a full and interesting life while intertwining their individual plots to build the tale.