Andrew Steinmetz,
Eva's Threepenny Theatre
(Gaspereau Press, 2008)

In Eva's Threepenny Theatre, Canadian novelist Andrew Steinmetz deliberately blurs the line between memoir and fiction and, unlike American writers who appear on Oprah, admits that the blend of truth and untruth is what he's up to from the start. When he discovered that his aunt Eva had performed in Bertolt Brecht's plays in Germany before the rise of the Nazis sent her family on the road, he decided that here was a story worth telling.

Rather than simply write a factual family memoir, though, he decided to amplify the story so that it proves the Shakespearean adage about the world being a stage and its people, players.

Therefore, he gives us a version of himself with a tape recorder, visiting his aunt, trying to draw her out about the old days. She tells him how she was raised in Germany, describing in detail her family history, which included a mother who was an invalid and siblings who made her childhood a torment. Then she discovered the theater and went to work in it, eventually winding up playing small parts in Brecht's plays.

With the rise of Nazism, her life was turned around and she began her adventurous trek that led to Canada and a new life.

How much of this is fiction and how much is true, we can't really tell; suffice it to say that Eva has a striking eye for the telling detail as well as a tendency to understate, to relate almost everything in the same tone, so that no one event is more significant than the others.

What's true and what's not true finally doesn't matter. What does is the story of human endurance.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 March 2009

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