They Were Good Germans Once: A Memoir (Hardcover)

They Were Good Germans Once: A Memoir By Evelyn Toynton Cover Image

They Were Good Germans Once: A Memoir (Hardcover)


Available to order. Please call to confirm in store availabiltiy.

While Evelyn Toynton’s father became a hard-working, civic-minded American, with a great sense of obligation to his suburban community, her uncle never stopped feeling like an exile in the US; and as soon as he could after World War II, he started making trips back to Germany. The women in her family also had widely varying relationships to the societies in which they found refuge. One of them, after browbeating a Nazi police chief into arranging for her husband’s release from Dachau, wound up in England and became a passionate Anglophile; another, a widow deprived of all material comfort and security, retreated into seclusion in her tiny New York apartment, distancing herself from American life and finding solace in her beloved German poets. A fierce Zionist who smuggled guns and money from Europe into Palestine under the noses of the British went on to found a kibbutz and fight for the rights of Arabs as well as Jews. Then there was the author’s German-born mother, who emigrated to the U.S. only to be struck down by tragedy and forced to live separately from her children, but still found ways to nurture them and provide them with a haven from their own sorrows. Each of these remarkable people had lost not only their native homeland and their sense of identity but many of the people they loved. Yet almost all found ways to give meaning to their lives, whether in their own small circles or in the larger world.

Evelyn Toynton is the author of three novels: Modern Art (published by Delphinium, selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize;later published in Russian and Chinese translations);The Oriental Wife (optioned for a film, and published in a Greek translation), and Inheritance (starred reviews in Booklist and the Library Journal), and of a short biography of Jackson Pollock, part of the Yale University Press’s Icons of America series. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the London Review of Books, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, the TLS, The American Scholar, The Threepenny Review, Prospect, and Salmagundi. They have also been published in the anthologies Rereadings;Mentors, Muses & Monsters;Novel Writing: An Artists’ and Writers’ Companion;and Table Talk from the Threepenny Review. Toynton has received fellowships from Yaddo, the Maison Dora Maar, the Djerassi Colony, The International Writers’ and Translators’ Center of Rhodes, and the Spiti tis Logotexnias in Paros. For the past twenty-five years, she has lived in England, on the North Norfolk coast.

"The author's tone is often elegiac. . . . A thoughtful, notable addition to the literature of the Holocaust and those survivors who started anew in America. . . a poignant memoir." — Kirkus Reviews

“This priceless recapturing of darkened history, this lifetime’s rumination on family results in a stunningly intelligent and elegantly written work, whose honesty, maturity, perspective and wisdom are so rare in today’s memoirs. I found it utterly engrossing.” — Phillip Lopate, author of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

“This book enchanted me in every way. With Toynton's signature intelligence, subtlety and wit, she describes members of her family—deracinated through no fault of their own—in portraits that are by turns surprising, hilarious and heartbreaking. They speak to the punishment of expulsion, the longing for what was left behind, the finality of exile. I shall reread this book at least once a year to remind myself of what a good memoir can be.” — Lynn Freed, author of The Romance of Elsewhere

“Evelyn Toynton’s German Jewish family was one of the lucky ones, who escaped the Holocaust and made it to America. But her tragic, comic, sharply observed memoir shines a brilliant light on their fate, ‘marooned for life’, as she writes of her uncle, in a strange loneliness.” — Carole Angier, author of  Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald

Praise for Inheritance: "With rich literary allusions, Toynton delivers a classic story set in Thatcher’s England. Themes of parental legacy, lost innocence, the impermanence of life, DNA versus nurture, and illusion versus reality wrap vine-like around evocative locales and vivid characters." — Booklist, starred review

"A wordsmith of the highest order, Toynton weaves a deeply cinematic story." — Library Journal, starred review

“A well-told and gripping drama.” — Times Literary Supplement, UK

 "An intense and beautifully written novel, a vivid portrayal of romantic Anglophilia and disillusionment, explored in all its sorrowful and comic complexity." — Joan Brady, Whitbread Award-winning author of Theory of War

Praise for Jackson Pollock: “A Vasari-like narrative of Jackson Pollock… it is the book to read to find out what he was and was about.” — Arthur Danto

“Toynton lends her multifarious talent to the story of the turbulent life of iconic artist Jackson Pollock…. A quotable and inspired contemporary portrait.” — Publishers Weekly

“Toynton’s sensitive and incisive book sorts through the wreckage of an imagination out of which so much of contemporary art would go on to assemble itself.” — Times Literary Supplement, UK

Praise for The Oriental Wife: “The Oriental Wife is a clear-eyed but tender, always intelligent and beautifully observed group portrait of German Jews, their lives shattered by the Third Reich, painfully finding their way in England and the New World. A remarkable and virtuous achievement!” — Louis Begley, author of About Schmidt and Wartime Lies

“How much reality can you take? That’s a question I think you have to ask yourself before opening Evelyn Toynton’s fine, mordant new book… when Toynton describes love and love-making, the emotional high points seem to leap from the page… sentence by sentence, superior fiction.” — Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, NPR

“In this poignant, vivid, and richly humane novel, Evelyn Toynton measures the weight of personal tragedy against the great catastrophes of twentieth-century history.” — Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation and Appassionata

“A first-rate literary work and a character study of loss.” — Kirkus Reviews

“With delicacy and precision, Evelyn Toynton’s The Oriental Wife recounts the lives of a group of German Jews who have fled the Holocaust to settle in America…. One of the strengths of this subtle and luminous novel is its compassionate but clear-eyed view of each of its characters.” — The Washington Independent Review of Books