Ward Just likes to explore (at least) two broad themes: how Washington messes up people and the expatriate experience. The Translator is about two expatriates – one German and the other American – that meet, marry and build a life in Paris. It is a post-War study with a hint of the post-Soviet world to come.
Sidney (whose name was originally Sigmund) was a child who lost his father in WWII. It seems his father was an army major that didn’t play nice with Nazis and his early memory of the army taking his father away was traumatic even to read. When he left the country as a young man, the Iron Curtain was dropping and his mother ended up going east to her home town. Going east.
Angela was somewhat younger and had lost her mother at an early age. Vietnam was her war – it took her brother and left her disillusioned with the States.
As in previous novels, Just asserts that all true expatriates feel, for one reason or another that they cannot go “home”. I love this description of post-War (West) Germany:
“As old Prussia was an army with a state rather than a state with an army, so the Federal Republic was an economy with a state – no wonder that the iron law of the German Economic Miracle was no inflation – and went about its business shyly, the least charismatic of nations, misshapen, a huge head on a short, powerful body, its hand on its wallet, a burgher’s wary smile concealing clenched teeth, its voice seldom heard. Ven vill da world vorget? Germany frightened people, it had been docile for so long, its situation unnatural. As a nation it resembled Chicago, central to its region, a furious engine that advanced on its own inner logic, closed in on itself, with resentments enough to fill all the couches of Vienna – yet beneath the surface there was faith, patience and an implacable sense of destiny.”
Yeah, so mentioning Chicago always gets my attention.
The “present day” was as the Wall goes down. There was so much a sense of history and foreboding that I had to check the publication date several times. It was 1991 and there were already hints of 9/11. The observation I remember is that (excepting the Balkans, where bad stuff was clearly going to happen) European nations were not going to go warring with each other again. They have figured out that if you win, you lose and if you lose, you win. The Middle East, on the other hand..
I can’t tell you how much I love this guy.