The Houseguest

A Novel

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Book Description

An “evocative” historical novel set on the eve of America’s involvement in World War II that follows a Russian immigrant family who agree to take in a dazzling Jewish actress to save her from the atrocities raging through Europe (The New York Times).

It is the summer of 1941 and Abe Auer, a Russian immigrant and small–town junkyard owner, has become disenchanted with his life. So when his friend Max Hoffman, a local rabbi with a dark past, asks Abe to take in a European refugee, he agrees, unaware that the woman coming to live with him is a volatile and alluring actress named Ana Beidler. Ana regales the Auer family with tales of her lost stardom and charms and mystifies Abe with her glamour and unabashed sexuality, forcing him to confront his own desire as well as the ghost of his dead brother.

As news filters out of Europe, American Jews struggle to make sense of the atrocities. Some want to bury their heads in the sand while others want to create a Jewish army that would fight Hitler and promote bold, wide–spread rescue initiatives. And when a popular Manhattan synagogue is burned to the ground, our characters begin to feel the drumbeat of war is marching ever closer to home.

Set on the eve of America’s involvement in World War II, The Houseguest examines a little–known aspect of the war and highlights the network of organizations seeking to help Jews abroad, just as masses of people seeking to escape Europe are turned away from American shores. It moves seamlessly from the Yiddish theaters of Second Avenue to the junkyards of Utica to the covert world of political activists, Jewish immigrants, and the stars and discontents of New York’s Yiddish stage. Ultimately, The Houseguest is a moving story about identity, family, and the decisions that define who we will become.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

"In these harrowing and beautiful pages, Brooks uses an intricately drawn cast of characters, including a seductive refugee named Ana Beidler, to depict the ambiguities of taking as well as delaying action. By the time we reach the transcendent closing pages of The Houseguest, we realize that a certain consolation may be possible for the living, but it's never quite enough to compensate for the numberless dead." —Elizabeth Rosner, National Books Critics Circle committee

"[An] ambitious, wildly successful novel . . . Manifesting masterful control of her characters and plot, Brooks delivers a titular protagonist who more than carries her weight . . . Bravely choosing one of history's most horrifying milieus as her blackboard, Brooks brings to vivid life the lesson that for better and for worse, people change the world, and the world changes people, and the best we can hope for is that some of the time, those changes are for the betterment of us all." —Chicago Tribune

"Kim Brooks's debut novel has many of the ingredients needed for a memorable work: an evocative sense of place and time; finely drawn characters; taut, limpid prose . . . In Ana Beidler, Brooks has created a striking character." —The New York Times Book Review

"Heartbreaking, profound, and brimming with rich historical detail, it's a different kind of Holocaust story, set on American soil in 1941: a time when minding one's own business was the norm, when turning a blind eye allowed genocide to occur right under our collective noses . . . Throughout the book, Brooks writes beautiful descriptions that are both stunning and laden with meaning—too many to possibly share here. Yet her prose, as gorgeous as it can be, is never purely aesthetic, because her illustrations of these lives and these cities on the eve of World War II are the heart of her story."—The Chicago Review of Books

"Kim Brooks weaves a complex story that spans countries, states, and venues . . . This intricately told novel depicting the minutiae of domestic life and relationships, loss and grief, delves into the dark psychology of the characters and their layered and loaded interactions . . . The ending of the novel will reward readers with a twist that ties up loose ends but also presents more questions about these characters facing tough situations. Descriptive moments of levity depicting pre–World War II Jewish life in Europe and the Yiddish theater provide a window into a vibrant world and add another layer to this story that keeps the reader guessing until the end." —Jewish Book Council

Every image, metaphor, and character is carefully crafted to build a portrait of a vibrant culture and to illustrate that the ultimate inhumanity is ignoring people; the highest good is caring. With the emotional depth and lyricism of Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, and the flawed personalities and lavish imagery of Dara Horn's The World to Come, this witty, moving, and literary paean to a people bursts with the depth and magic of a Chagall painting." —Booklist (starred review)

"This sophisticated first novel considers the response by Americans Jews to the ever more insistent evidence of racial conflagration across the Atlantic . . . Mature in tone and unhurried in pace, Brooks' novel is at its best in its portraits of unhappy men confronted by cataclysmic events in the world and unexpressed longings at home." —Kirkus Reviews

"How odd that a novel set in 1941 should be one of the timeliest and most urgent books of 2016. Filled with intrigue and desperation and beauty, The Houseguest isn't just about refugees, but about refuge itself, in all its forms. A bold and gorgeous debut."—Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers

"The Houseguest explores important questions—what is your responsibility to another person? If you could save another from terrible harm, what would you do? Kim Brooks answers through her cast of beautifully drawn, deeply human characters and a story that does not let you go. This is a masterful novel; Kim Brooks is a fantastic writer and this is a necessary and important book." —Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award