I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Little Book by Selden Edwards

Wheeler Burden, an exiled member of the famous old Boston Burden family, grew up in San Francisco on a farm with his Jewish mother.  His father, a living legend at the schools he went to and during the war, where he was captured by the Nazis while working with the French resistance, but died being tortured to death for information he would not give them.  His grandfather Burden is a hard anti-Semite and therefore, Wheeler's mom had nothing to do with him.  His grandmother, on the other hand is a sweet and wonderful woman that he gets to know once his grandfather dies and his mother agrees to send him to St. Gregory's private school, where the Burdens had gone to and like his father, he makes his mark there in baseball and academics.  One of the professors, known as Hage teaches certain students about his time in Austria before the turn of the century, when everything was perfect.  He takes Wheeler under his wing, as he did his father before him.

Wheeler grows up to be a rock musician who was at Woodstock and got stabbed at Altamont.  In the mid-seventies he gave it all up for seemingly no reason.  Around this time he inherits the work of his professor and sets about to make it into a book.  This takes about fifteen years of hard work and it becomes a hit.  When he is walking home from a book signing in the mid-eighties, he suddenly finds himself in a strangely familiar place.  It is 1897 in the fin de siècle Vienna.  He has no idea how he got here, but he quickly steals a suit and some money from an American. 

In this amazing city, the cultural center of Europe, he meets famous thinkers and creators of the time in the coffee houses, he goes and visits Freud, before he becomes famous and has just come up with his Oedipus Complex.  He tries to help Freud make his theories more clear and understandable.  His mother was part of a group that helped Freud escape to London during the war and they spent lots of time trying to decipher Freud's work. 

He also meets the love of his life, a girl named Emily James from Amherst, Massachusetts.  When they kiss for the first time, she becomes frightened of her feelings for him and disappears for a while.  Then he finds out she is his grandmother Burden.  But she isn't the only one he meets.  His father appears as well.  On the real time line, he has just been tortured by the Nazis and left for dead and in his last moments of life he thinks of this place that the Hage told him about and then he is there.  His father, Dilly, tells him a few family secrets and how important his grandmother will be in the future and how he must not interfere with her marrying Burden, who is also in Vienna.

Wheeler finds it hard to let her go and in the end, the decision  is made for him.  But he is grateful to have gotten a chance to meet and get to know the mythical father who is now shown to be quite human and to fall in love with one of the most wonderful women of the century.  He keeps a diary that comes back to haunt him in a way and passes through many hands, until Wheeler's mother gets it at the end of the book.

This was a fabulous book that really made you feel you were in the Ringstrasse in Vienna, a time of great political turmoil, where the rise of anti-Semitism is predicting the future of the 400,000 Jews in the city at that time, that will diminish to 124 after World War II.  Mahler is there directing the symphony to Wagner in amazing ways, right before he becomes famous.  Famous artists and thinkers of that time are there and you can really feel yourself there.  I knew little about Austria before reading this book, but now I feel like I have lived there at the height of its existence.  This is a tremendously good book written over the course of forty years by the author who started it in college as a short paper and then over the years added more and more as information became available about that special place in time.  It was well worth the wait and I hope to find more books from this author without the long wait.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Novel-Selden-Edwards-ebook/dp/B0017SWQN8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488204523&sr=8-1&keywords=the+little+book

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