Monday, June 9, 2014
Love Above Time: You, Fascinating You by Germaine Shames
You, Fascinating You is another excellent book by journalist, novelist, and screenwriter Germaine Shames. I have read and greatly enjoyed two of her previous novels, Hotel Noir and Echo Year, and a volume of short stories, Wars of the Flesh. In this novel, Ms. Shames writes a story of love and war based on the life of Margit Wolf, a ballerina trained in her art during the pre-World War II years in Budapest, Hungary. Margit, a beautiful woman from a Jewish family, narrates her life of dance and adventure beginning in the 1920s when she and three ballet friends were recruited in Budapest by an "impresario" with doubtful credentials to travel and dance in local musical shows in Italy. Her life goal was to dance ballet at La Scala in Milan and considered the opportunity to travel to Italy the first step in a wonderful career. Margit soon realized that there was a long road to her dancing goal. Although strong in character, Margit's dreams slowly faded as love, war, and persecution affected her along the road.
As a young dancer in Italy, Margit formed a relationship with an orchestra leader, Neapolitan Maestro Pasquale Frustaci. The love between the two was destined to last a lifetime, though most of the time the Jew and Gentile were separated by the edicts of war. Margit became restricted in travel out of Hungary while Pasquale returned to his family and career as composer/conductor in Naples. Margit describes her personal restrictive circumstances and the general increasingly deadly persecution of Jews in Hungary in the 1930s and 1940s. The will to live remained strong within Jewish families but the living conditions deteriorated during the War to bare survival. As time went by, Margit began to wonder if she, her son, and Pasquale would ever live together again.
Ms. Shames is a great story teller with a talent for giving life to characters while maintaining her distance from them. They do not speak her thoughts "out of character" as is the case with many novelists. I think of her talent as a "dissociative" approach to writing and believe it allows characters to experience their own genuine motivations and emotions. Another wonderful talent is Germaine's ability to represent time in her novels in a foreshortened manner that heightens the dramatic intensity of her stories. The reader notices a jump from one point of the narrative to a later one in terms of hours, days, and even years. By leaving out much of the daily circumstances and details of development over the years, the reader feels with high impact the excitement, contentment, boredom, and pain of the characters' lives as they return to the page after time has elapsed. The reader intuitively knows the important unwritten background details of their lives. Time itself is a character created by Ms. Shames (as it was with Proust and Joyce) allowing the reader to soar ahead of both the limits of ordinary and extraordinary experience of the characters. The reader can envision a play taken directly from the novel.
Well, that is exactly what Germaine Shames is doing, developing a musical play based on her novel. The title, You, Fascinating You, is a love song written by Pasquale lamenting the forced separation from Margit and their long period of separation. The reader anticipates a reunion, but given the circumstances, is it possible? I highly recommend this novel, and I plan to see the play when it is ready for the theater.