Vienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of denazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.
Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier upon discovering her husband's infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is eighteen-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather's sickbed and the secrets of his family's past.
As Anna and Robert navigate a damaged, unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive, by any means. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future deeply uncertain for all.
In The Crooked Maid, Dan Vyleta returns to the shadows of a war-darkened Vienna, in a thrilling and atmospheric story of blame, guilt, and restitution.
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.