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The year is 1937. On a remote hilltop some distance from Vienna stands a hotel called The Retreat. Founded by a man who is determined to cleanse himself and his guests of all "Jewish traits," it is a resort of assimilation, with daily activities that include lessons in how to look, talk, act in short, how to pass as a gentile. But with Hitler on the march, the possibilities of both assimilation and retreat are quickly fading for the hotel's patrons, men and women who are necessarily and horrifically blind to their fate.

Mordant, shrewd and elegantly written, The Retreat is a moving story of people forbidden to retreat from themselves.

If there was anyone in the street who knew the value of a tasty dish, a fragrant perfume, a feminine bauble, it was Lauffer. At one time, people would argue with him and blame him, and Balaban once declared in a rage, "If any of you would like to know the true figure of a Jew, look at Lauffer and you'll understand why people hate us. They're right to hate us." Since then, a lot of water had passed beneath the bridge, and people had changed. Life at these heights, there was no denying, had its effects.

But not on the cook. She sat in the kitchen, seething with venom. If her anger had faded, her envy had not. "What do the gentile women see in him, be so good as to explain. His height is no height. His clothes, no clothes. His appearance is the perfection of ugliness. What do the gentile women see in him that they are so drawn to him?"

"They aren't drawn to him. He draws them." "What does he draw them with?" "I don't know. With perfume, I suppose."

Mirzel sitting in the kitchen and listening knew: Lauffer was kind-hearted. He understood women; he knew how to listen to them and how to whisper in their ears. No wonder they loved him....

 

   
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