Frederic Morton The Forever Street: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743252201

The Forever Street: A Novel

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9780743252201: The Forever Street: A Novel
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Berek, a young penniless Jew of eighteen is struggling to make a home of Turk Place, a desolate street that, in 1873 Vienna, was little more than a Gypsy encampment. But Berek believes fiercely in his own power to forge miracles. Taking the caretaker's daughter as his bride, Berek is confident he can thrive on faith. When a mysterious piece of stone comes into his possession, he and his wife believe their prayers have been answered; the stone may be a holy fragment of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
This relic, no larger than a brick, proves to transfigure the couple's lives. They make Turk Place their home and three generations of Turk Place residents share the legacy of the Brick. For six decades, the family perseveres in the face of tumultuous events -- World War I, the shattering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Great Depression. But Hitler's "final solution" forces them to make an impossible choice: flee the Nazis or remain and perish.

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About the Author:

Frederic Morton was born in Vienna and lives in New York. He is the author of twelve books, two of which, The Rothschilds and A Nervous Splendor, have been National Book Award finalists. The Rothschilds was made into a Tony Award-winning musical. Morton's work has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1965 as well as in The Best American Essays 2003.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

On a gusty april day in 1873 Dr. Nassig pulled up his trouser cuffs against some mud. This mud was unmitigatedly rural, though only a morning's ride away from Vienna by an old horse. With some fastidiousness the doctor stepped from a covered wagon down into the village of Varungy. His Pekingese protested. It could not follow its master because the Gypsy driver held its silk collar. The kiss Dr. Nassig blew the dog stopped the barking and confused three women by the well.

Dr. Nassig walked straight to the door of the synagogue where Rabbi Asher Kohn gripped the brim of his hat with both hands. The wind wanted the hat. It billowed the blacksmith's apron of young Berek Spiegelglass, who was nailing a lock onto the synagogue's door.

Dr. Nassig gave a French bow before the rabbi. "My learned master," he said. And then, after blowing the Pekingese one more kiss (which silenced its growls at passing geese), he informed the rabbi that he, Nassig, was pleased to offer work, housing and prosperity for everyone in Varungy in a location very close by the imperial capital itself.

Any man saying such words five years earlier, or indeed during any of the three hundred years preceding, would have been considered mad. For centuries the village had been dedicated to the worship of God and to the raising of geese, two stable pursuits expected to last forever. But nowadays nothing lasted forever. A strangeness had fallen upon the land. No longer did the huge four-horse vans from the slaughterhouses to the north stop by the village. They no longer bought Varungy's famous geese, fat and sleek and snow-white. Now the vans went to the district town of Szatmar, where a giant new goose factory force-fed the birds (using Tasmanian slaves, it was rumored) and supplied the pâté maker at Strasbourg with fatter goose livers at a cheaper price.

The men of Varungy could no longer support themselves by tending their fowl or by growing maize for bird fodder. Most had to stoop the day away, gathering flax in the fields of the gentiles. Once the village geese had been placid and plump. Now they were scrawny, ravenous, dirty, ragged, furious -- a web-footed mob in Varungy's one street. They rampaged through kitchen larders. They snatched sandwiches from children's hands. They even pecked at the Torahs in the synagogue. Indeed, the day of Dr. Nassig's visit marked the first time in village history that a lock had to be put on the prayer house (some desperate birds had been known to nudge the doorknob open), young Berek Spiegelglass officiating as locksmith.

But at least the geese stayed in the village. It was the people who were moving out. The teacher no longer received his salary, nor funds for ink, quills and grammar texts; he had become a court clerk in Bratislava. Soon a wildly bearded goat was circling the blackboard and dining on old test papers in the schoolhouse. The innkeeper had abandoned his inn for a tinker's cart; starlings whistled from nests built into the tavern's bottle shelves; tails of field mice whisked in and out of taps of wine barrels gone dry. Varungy's blacksmith shut up shop. He'd also been the village circumciser as well as railroad mechanic at the freight-line stop. But babies were no longer being born at Varungy; the station depot was about to be shut down. The blacksmith left for Budapest to serve as farrier for the equerry-in-chief to Prince Esterhazy. Before his departure he girded the waist of his journeyman, Berek Spiegelglass, with the guild belt that made the young man smithy-master of the village. But what horses were there to shoe? The rabbi himself had to travel to the district town twice weekly. Here he earned his bread by teaching chess openings to a flax jobber -- a rabbi who must push pawns under a gorgeous silver crucifix.

All of which explained why Berek Spiegelglass was attaching a lock to the synagogue door during Dr. Nassig's visit and why Rabbi Kohn did not frown at the idea of moving what was left of the village. The rabbi lifted his hat to wave its sail-like brim in the wind. For some reason this was the only gesture that would stop the perpetual riot of two hundred mangy geese in the street.

"Move all of us?" the rabbi asked in the temporary silence. "To Vienna? But how can one accomplish that?"

"Learned master," Dr. Nassig said. "There is nothing modern man cannot accomplish with a good lawyer at his side. In our capital the emperor is building a boulevard with birdhouses the size of this synagogue. In May he will open the Vienna World's Fair -- and that's where you people have your chance."

"We?" the rabbi said.

"You," Dr. Nassig answered. And went on to pronounce words the rabbi thought couldn't be right because he heard them through Berek's hammering of the lock, through the renewed natterings of the geese and the yaps of the Pekingese. Dr. Nassig appeared to say, under all these noises, that he himself had opened an exhibit at the great fair, showing the Seven Wonders of the World; and that he would sell there, to thousands of visitors, medallions containing not only a grain of salt from the Sea of Galilee on which the Savior of the gentiles had walked, but also a grain of the Brick from the Wailing Wall sacred to the Jews; that he, Nassig, would manufacture the medallions himself and that these enterprises would provide prosperous employment to Varungyers once they removed to Vienna.

"Ah," the rabbi said. He recalled Dr. Nassig's sorties through the village. The doctor hawked, through an earringed associate, horoscopes printed in serpentine letters on purple paper. "Jews don't shoot about like Gypsies."

"Nobody will shoot about," Dr. Nassig said. "You will reside in very excellent premises I have leased, just outside the capital. You just need a residential permit from the emperor, that's all, based on your people's employment in my medallion factory."

The rabbi took a bitter breath. "From the emperor. Yes, I will ask him in my spare time."

"You can wait till month after next," Dr. Nassig said easily. "Till Whitsuntide. When you bring him the goose."

"Bring the goose!" the rabbi said.

Of course, the Whitsuntide goose was never brought. It was an annual tribute sent at a great worshipful distance. For generations Varungyers had presented their most ermine goose to the Crown -- a formality reaffirming the emperor's direct overlordship that protected the village from the anti-Semitic whims of local magnates. But the goose was simply given to the imperial mail coach when it passed through on the way to the capital. In Vienna the bird was handed on to a charity designated by the Court. No Varungyer would dare bring his own person along with the goose.

"No, no," the rabbi said.

"I'm just a humble lawyer," Dr. Nassig said. In fact, he let the wind humiliate his mustaches into disorder. "But I have researched the law. The right of presentation of the Whitsuntide goose is joined to the right of petition in personal audience. Absolutely. If you petition for a Viennese residence permit for your people, His Majesty will grant it. He likes to encourage factories like mine. He wants more industry. You will see when you ask him."

"Ask -- him?" the rabbi said.

"You just take the Whitsuntide goose to him and make a reasonable request," Dr. Nassig said. "I will arrange the paperwork beforehand. It's easy. I have friends in the Chancellery."

"You see, I am an old man," the rabbi said. "Last year I had a kidney affliction."

"How sad," Dr. Nassig said. "In that case, I will have to help another village."

Dr. Nassig was on the point of walking back to the wagon. The history of the Brick might have taken an entirely different turn if, at that moment, Berek Spiegelglass had not raised his voice. Having just driven home the final nail, he straightened up to say, "That medallion, sir? For the World's Fair? What did you have in mind, bronze or brass?"

"Oh?" Dr. Nassig said.

"Because brass is a lot cheaper," Berek said.

"Who is our young man?" Dr. Nassig said.

"Him, he's the son of Meyer Spiegelglass, the goosedown maker, the pillow man," Rabbi Kohn said with much more energy now that the topic was shifting. "The widower Spiegelglass, may he rest in peace, did you know him? This is his son Berek."

"I see, we have an orphan here," Dr. Nassig said.

"Meyer died of an evil kidney," the rabbi said, touching himself above the hip. "One must be careful in the later years."

"Very careful," Dr. Nassig said, his eye steady on Berek. "Alas, in the end, most of us are orphans. And an orphan might be even better for a personal petition than a rabbi."

"Thank you, Berek, for the lock," the rabbi said.

The wind blew, it set shuddering the canvas of the wagon, it deranged the Pekingese's combed fur, it flooded with dust the plumage of hordes of geese, it whined down Varungy's half-dozen roofs, their chimneys lonely and smokeless in the plain. And Dr. Nassig in his flapping, belted greatcoat slowly retwirled his mustaches.

Berek Spiegelglass departed Varungy for the Imperial Palace in Vienna on May 3, 1873, seven days after his eighteenth birthday. It had been a nervous week for the remnants of the village.

First came the problem of the right goose. A worthy specimen had to be searched for amid the rabble of stringy creatures -- a stately bird, fit to be the Whitsuntide tribute to Franz Joseph I. The one Berek picked was not only bulkier but stronger than the others. Three men had to help him hold it down in the waters of Varungy Brook until the grime was washed from its feathers. After that they dried it in the whitest cotton left in the village: it was wrapped in one of the snowy burial garments which would not be used because not enough people lived and therefore died in the village. The procedure infuriated the animal into honking guttural German-sounding curses. Not until Berek had the idea of feeding it brandy-soaked corn did it subside into grunts. At last it settled down on the floor of the wicker cage to await transport to His Majesty.

Then there was the matter of Bere...

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9780385171595: The Forever Street

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ISBN 10:  0385171595 ISBN 13:  9780385171595
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Book Description Simon & Schuster. Paperback. Condition: New. 544 pages. Dimensions: 8.4in. x 5.3in. x 1.4in.Berek, a young penniless Jew of eighteen is struggling to make a home of Turk Place, a desolate street that, in 1873 Vienna, was little more than a Gypsy encampment. But Berek believes fiercely in his own power to forge miracles. Taking the caretakers daughter as his bride, Berek is confident he can thrive on faith. When a mysterious piece of stone comes into his possession, he and his wife believe their prayers have been answered; the stone may be a holy fragment of Jerusalems Wailing Wall. This relic, no larger than a brick, proves to transfigure the couples lives. They make Turk Place their home and three generations of Turk Place residents share the legacy of the Brick. For six decades, the family perseveres in the face of tumultuous events -- World War I, the shattering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Great Depression. But Hitlers final solution forces them to make an impossible choice: flee the Nazis or remain and perish. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780743252201

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