House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann

Evelyn Juers

House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann
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House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann

Evelyn Juers

In 1933 the prominent author and political activist Heinrich Mann and his partner Nelly Kroeger were forced to flee Nazi Germany, finding refuge first in France and later, in great despair, in Los Angeles, where Nelly committed suicide in 1944 and Heinrich died in 1950. Using extensive archival research, interviews with descendants, and published sources, Juers portrays their world in exile, focussing on Heinrich and Nelly and their circle, Heinrich’s younger brother Thomas Mann, their mother Julia and sister Carla, and friends Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Doeblin and Kurt Tucholsky. Their paths are crossed in turn by those of other writers and artists displaced by war or their beliefs, including James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Else Lasker- Schuler, Robert Musil, Joseph Roth and Kurt Schwitters. Virginia Woolf ’s voice is central to the story. House of Exile is a collective portrait, which uses historical, essayistic and emblematic means to recover, from written remains, the courage and defiance of a group shattered by the forces of history, and driven towards isolation and death.

Review

Writer Heinrich Mann, brother of the more famous Thomas, was a leading literary figure in Weimar Germany and an outspoken opponent of fascism. He escaped Germany just before Hitler’s ascent to power in February 1933. The Nazi regime subsequently burnt his work and placed him on a wanted list.

House of Exile is a biography of Mann and his partner Nelly Kroeger which essays the invisible, unnameable, uncountable aspects of what was lost for these and other ‘incurably European’ refugees from fascism. Despite the decade Juers spent researching it, in style her book is more like a novel than a conventional biography, deeply imagined, and often beautifully written. Juers, who was born in northern Germany and has a migrant’s awareness of the frailness and coincidentality of much human connection, works with a huge palette, cramming snippets of other lives – Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Daniel Solander – into her book.

Whether readers find this intrusive or fascinating, ultimately *House of Exil*e is not only a gripping human story but a rewarding exploration of the fate of the artist’s sensibility under the Third Reich.

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