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Cohen, Matt.

Markham (Ont.), Viking, c1986. 290pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-670-81083-4. Distributed by Penguin Canada. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by James Kingstone

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

Matt Cohen's Nadine is the story of Nadine Santangel, a French Jew, who struggles lo recover a sense of her past as a young girl whose parents died during World War II in Hitler's Final Solution. It is an interesting novel, and one that high school seniors in this country will find relevant and immensely compelling for the details of the Holocaust rendered closely in the opening chapters. I think it is necessary for students today to have an understanding of this dark period in the world's history. Cohen enlivens his story with characters whose compulsions and complicated and tormented entanglements establish the human situation on which the reportage of facts is pinned.

The style of the novel, an important feature, struck this reader as uneven and betrays the novelist's possible failure to appreciate the need to link past and present more clearly. As the protagonist struggles to reconnect past and present, the reader attempts with equal assiduity to make connections: connections that are less easily made because the seriousness of the opening yields increasingly in the middle and later chapters of the novel to a more facile and inventive style of writing. The book becomes entertainment, superficial. It seems to travel too far from its original raison d'etre to be wholly satisfying in the end. The problem may be rectified with a close re-reading of the opening sections, an effective way in this case to tidy up some of the more slack and elusive threads.

Torontonians of an older generation will delight in the chapters set at the University of Toronto campus in the 1960s; they have a wonderfully collegial and nostalgic feel to them. In fact, one of Cohen's great strengths seems to be his capacity to evoke landscape. His world, whether it is Toronto or Jerusalem or Paris (and these cities are evidence of the novel's sweep) is described with engaging verisimilitude. An ambitious work, primarily because of its introductory chapters, and one that demands to be read for that reason.

James Kingstone, Peterborough, Ont.
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