In Another Time
Jillian Cantor’s In Another Time takes us tastefully into the romance of Hanna and Max, two young people who meet and fall in love in Germany on the brink of the outbreak of World War II… and then introduces an awkward plot point that nearly wrecks the proceedings.
In 1931, Hanna Ginsberg, a wannabe composer and budding concert violinist, meets bookshop owner Max Beissinger in the Lyceum in Gutenstat in Berlin and he is instantly smitten. Max is taking a backup course in Economics, and Hanna is attending to hone her violin skills, and he interrupts her in the middle of a practice and is stunned by her talent. When she walks into his father’s bookstore hours later, it feels like kismet at work. Over the next five years they fall in love and, though Max is Catholic and Hanna Jewish, Max desperately wants to marry her. Their happiness is complicated by Max’s desperate attempts at saving both their lives. But with the promise of an orchestra position in the offing, Hanna refuses to leave Germany. Quickly, the anti-semitism around her escalates, and soon Hanna finds herself living in a supply closet in Max’s place while the war rages around them.
In 1946, Hanna awakens in an empty field miles outside Berlin, with everything from 1936 on completely wiped from her memory and only her beloved Stradivarius for company. The last memory she has is of Max sheltering her in his bookstore as she practiced for a big audition in Holland, and the SA soldiers arriving to destroy the shop and arrest her. Her damage is long-lasting; her recall is damaged and her joints are occasionally inflamed. She finds the kind Sister Louise, who helps her re-orientate, and also manages to locate Hanna’s sister Julia in London , with whom Hanna moves in as she recovers her equilibrium. Unsure if Max is dead or alive, Hanna starts to pick up the pieces of her life, eventually winning a position in the Pierre Le Bec Symphony as a first chair violinist and soloist. Though she travels the world, making new friends and experiencing potential new loves, she cannot forget Max and wants to know what happened to him. Julia insists her mind is trying to protect her from something terrible; her doctor calls it traumatic amnesia, but Hanna is desperate to find out what happened to her during the latter part of the war years. Her determination to reach Max leads her in multiple directions, and eventually causes her to believe him dead. As she pieces together what happened and tries to move on with her life, Max continues to look for her.
In Another Time is a fine, delicate story that is marred by a completely out-of-left-field narrative choice that nearly undoes all of the beautiful work the author has crafted.
There are a lot of great things about this novel, not least of which are the way it portrays the desperation and cruelty of war. The simple beauty of the romance between Max and Hanna, complicated by Hanna’s stubbornness and Max’s almost martyrish sense of self-sacrifice, is lovely and easy to understand, sympathize with, and be lost in. The post-war world of Britain and the pre-and-mid-war world of Germany are painted vividly. So is Hanna’s all-consuming love
There is a big problem with the story, though – the author’s choice to toss in a science fiction-like twist that explains what happened to Hanna and Max, and separated them. These are two flavors that don’t really go together – on one page we have Hanna’s mother being pulled violently away at the hands of the Gestapo – on another, Max’s father joyfully ruminating about his discovery of wormholes. This adds a level of awkwardness that is otherwise unnecessary to the plot; a serious novel dealing with the Holocaust crashing into Quantum Leap. It causes the reader to think up some if-onlys that are truly uncomfortable.
In Another Time is a mixed bag; a perfect portrait of a woman who has suffered trauma but refuses to knuckle under it and a desperate and romantic man who adores her beyond reason. But the veneer of science fiction applied to the realism of the story feels misplaced instead of interesting.