The story starts with a reflection back into the youth of Jesse E Lasky, an American, who grew up near the beaches of Southern Californa. Jesse is Jewish, though he is not so religious if even a bit secular. He remembers the icons of his youth, starting in the Eisenhower era, from television programs, films, and music from the fifties and sixties. He tells about his first sexual encounter with the opposite sex. This is about growing up in America and his coming of age. There is a recollection of a concert backstage with the Grateful Dead rock band in 1970, on New Years Eve. He remember his conversations with Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers of Hollywood film fame. The summers were spent on the beaches, living the ‘California Mystique’, with its idyllic fun in the sun. It is set in the context of the Beach Boys era. It was the beginning of the ‘counter culture’, the sixties, hearing the Beat Poets read and listening to the songs of Bob Dylan and others. The descriptions are sometimes tongue and cheek, cryptic and satirical yet also serious, thoughtful and a bit erotic. It is, at times, humorous and full of in depth analysis about the state of life in America, according to Jesse E. Lasky. This is the country he left that he takes with him to Europe.
Juxtaposed to this life in the USA. is the other life, the new life, of Jesse as he decides to move to Europe in midlife, and live in Vienna, Austria. He is an english teacher in Vienna and had a psychotherapy practice in America. He is creative and writes poetry and plays music. It is in Vienna, in Middle Europe, where Jesse starts to forge a new life which includes a budding romance with an Austrian woman by the name of Anna Barenstein. By this time, Jesse is already forty something, though still well preserved and ruggedly handsome. He spends quite a bit of time comparing the Austrian, European life with that of his past life in California. The theme of ‘Home’ and how he belongs and fits in runs throughout the novel.
While being both critical and positive about both his lives in the new and old worlds, it lends for an interesting yet objective viewpoint to the post modern world and for some of its current themes of globalization, meta-values, terrorism, materialism, culture clashes, war and environmental concerns. It describes how living in Europe with its sometimes parochial yet traditionally rich culture, has its advantages in a rather fulfulling way. This experience is mingled with his background of someone who had been living in the USA during a rather historic and highly impactful time period leading up to and including the post modern new millenium era we now live in.
Anna is a normal, Austrian woman in her thirties, who slowly becomes enchanted with Jesse. She is a school teacher, a Protestant who does not go to church. She plays the violin, is attractive and has a good figure. At first she feels Jesse is too American, superficial and fulfilling of the stereotypes of what Europeans think about the typical American man. There is a general description of how they first met in a night spot in Vienna that plays only classical music, which is one of the important contributions Vienna has made to the world of music. Another element unique to Vienna and its mileau, is Sigmund Freud and the founding of psychoanalysis. It is in this context that evolves, for instance, to stories of walking in the Vienna Woods and how Jesse and Anna gradually come to live together. This leads to their eventual marriage in Big Sur, California, and a honeymoon in Jamaica, which then led to rather adventuresome circumstances, as well as an epilogue.
This is also a story of Anna and some of how she lives and how she thinks. It goes into her life as a European and as an Austrian. It takes the reader through adventures, such as a liasion, one romantic evening, with an Austrian stud, who she met at a dancing spot in Vienna, while Jesse is away in America. It also includes a happenstance meeting with an old male friend and girlfriend from high school one evening. The man turns out now to be a spiritually oriented meditator a la hippie type right in the heart of the city.
The story includes some passages that has Jesse in different dreamstates, different levels of consciousness and altered states, during a nap in the Vienna Woods and during a flight back from California. The early life of Jesse is set in the American West Coast, namely Northern and Southern California. Hollywood is where Jesse was born. He had a middle class background but lived in a wealthier part of West Los Angeles and Venice beach . In Northern California he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, La Honda, and in Berkeley, with its importance to the sixties and today.
The theme of Hollywood, as the world famous center of the movies, with its fictional character world, juxtoposed to Europe and the rest of the world, is an important contextual aspect to the book. It continues to play a large role on both continents and the world at large. A virtual connection with this is Austrian movie actor, bodybuilder turned politician, Arnold Schwazenegger, who like another Californa actor, Ronald Reagan, got elected to an important office, which probably wouldn’t happen in Europe, let alone in Austria.
There is described in the book, a certain superficiality, an egocentric bent to the American culture and people. Now Arnold is the governor of California, with its world importance economically. Millions more people know that he is coming from this little country of Austria with its relatively small population of eight million people. Austria lost their great influence as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so life in modern day Austria and its nazi war involvement, as discussed in the book, becomes quite interesting and relevant.
There was one time where Jesse was in a taxi coming back from America when he spotted an American Jewish cowboy singer walking in the streets of Vienna with his guitar. The Kingsir, as he was called, was then picked up by Jesses’ taxi and he begins to relate some stories about his time in America, as he sings some country music songs in the cab. He tells of a story of his interaction with some Jewish high class prostitues. While in the cab, as The Kingsir falls asleep, Jesse discovers some original written tales from a leather satchel of his. One story is about The Kingsir and his meeting an old black Jew in Appalachia. There is another tale about a famous secret meeting of the worlds great spiritual teachers in the Black Forest of Germany many generations back. It tells about kabbalistic teachings that were handed down from his family, from his great great grandfather.
There is another espisode involving Jesse as an english teacher in Vienna, and his hot and intimate escapade with one of his students, a beautiful Italian woman. There is a scene in Guatemala where revelers are marching on a holy day down the streets of Antigua with holy symbols of Mother Mary and live music is being played as the people are out in mass celebrating in ecstasy.
The conglomeration of narrative episodes covers a lot of territory and leaves the reader with a lot of surprises amidst a variety of writing styles. It is fresh and intimate as well as contemporary and reflective. It is a love story that tickles the sensual side with descriptive interludes. Written by someone who has ‘been there and done that’, so to say, there is a level of accuracy and vivid recollection and imagination of those times that can stretch the facts while not apologising for this era that was of a special and great historical and sociological importance.