The Oriental Wife is the story of two assimilated Jewish children from Nuremberg who flee Hitler’s Germany and struggle to put down roots elsewhere. When they meet up again in New York, they fall in love both with each other and with America, believing they have found a permanent refuge. But just when it looks as though nothing can ever touch them again, their lives are shattered by a freakish accident and a betrayal that will reverberate into the life of their American daughter. In its portrait of the immigrant experience, and of the tragic gulf between generations, The Oriental Wife illuminates the collision of American ideals of freedom and happiness with certain sterner old world virtues.
Toynton's second novel is a sad, quiet tale of desperate refugees from Nazi Germany trying to build new lives in America while holding on to pieces of their past. Louisa, the teenage daughter of Jewish parents, is sent to an international school in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she persuades herself she's fallen in love with Julian, a schoolmate's brother, although she's more in love with the idea of him than the actual man. She travels to London before the war, where she drifts into a relationship with Phillip, another Englishman, who wants to write about the experiences of German-Jewish refugees. Phillip takes her with him to the U.S., promising marriage, hoping Louisa can help him gain access to refugees through her cousin Otto and his friend Rolf. When Phillip becomes abusive and alcoholic, Louisa flees back to Otto and Rolf, and winds up marrying Rolf. What seems like a fresh hope for the future quickly descends into years of endurance after a medical diagnosis changes all their lives Louisa's, Rolf's, and their daughter, Emma's. The writing is beautiful, but the book is unrelentingly sad. Even during the brief passages of happiness, one waits for Toynton to drop the inevitable other shoe on the heads of her unlucky characters.