Unspeakable Things: A Novel by Kathleen Spivack

Unspeakable Things: A Novel

byKathleen Spivack

Hardcover | January 26, 2016

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A wild, erotic novel—a daring debut—from the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others. A strange, haunting novel about survival and love in all its forms; about sexual awakenings and dark secrets; about European refugee intellectuals who have fled Hitler’s armies with their dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) “can do, will do” world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls—and us—to another realm of the senses. 

The setting: the early 1940s, New York—city of refuge, city of hope, with the specter of a red-hot Europe at war.

At the novel’s center:  Anna (known as the Rat), an exotic Hungarian countess with the face of an angel, beautiful eyes, and a seraphic smile, with a passionate intelligence, an exquisite ugliness, and the power to enchant . . . Her second cousin Herbert, a former minor Austrian civil servant who believes in Esperanto and the international rights of man, wheeling and dealing in New York, powerful in the social sphere yet under the thumb of his wife, Adeline . . . Michael, their missing homosexual son . . . Felix, a German pediatrician who dabbles in genetic engineering, practicing from his Upper East Side office with his little dachshund, Schatzie, by his side . . . The Tolstoi String Quartet, four men and their instruments, who for twenty years lived as one, playing the great concert halls of Europe, escaping to New York with their money sewn into the silk linings of their instrument cases . . .

And watching them all: Herbert’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, who understands from the furtive fear of her mother, and the huddled penury of their lives, and the sense of being in hiding, even in New York, that life is a test of courage and silence, Maria witnessing the family’s strange comings and goings, being regaled at night, when most are asleep, with the intoxicating, thrilling stories of their secret pasts . . . of lives lived in Saint Petersburg . . . of husbands being sent to the front and large, dangerous debts owed to the Tsar of imperial Russia, of late-night visits by coach to the palace of the Romanovs to beg for mercy and avoid execution . . . and at the heart of the stories, told through the long nights with no dawn in sight, the strange, electrifying tale of a pact made in desperation with the private adviser to the Tsar and Tsarina—the mystic faith healer Grigory Rasputin (Russian for “debauched one”), a pact of “companionship” between Anna (the Rat) and the scheming Siberian peasant–turned–holy man, called the Devil by some, the self-proclaimed “only true Christ,” meeting night after night in Rasputin’s apartments, and the spellbinding, unspeakable things done there in the name of penance and pleasure . . .

About The Author

KATHLEEN SPIVACK is an award-winning writer. She studied with Robert Lowell and remained friends with him for eighteen years, and is the author of many books, among them Moments of Past Happiness, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle. She has had residencies at the Radcliffe Institute, Yaddo, The MacDowell Colon...
Unspeakable Things
Unspeakable Things

by Kathleen Spivack

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Title:Unspeakable Things: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 8.58 × 6.01 × 1.09 inPublished:January 26, 2016Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385353960

ISBN - 13:9780385353960

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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***Copyright © 2016 Kathleen SpivackChapter 1THE RATIn the drafty reading room of the New York Public Library, Herbert opened hislatest letter from the little Rat, his old friend Anna Zygorzka. Her letterswere slow to arrive, and each one bore the marks of a censor, who dutifullyopened and read and then indicated the readership before sending it on to NewYork. Even David, who worked in the war office somewhat connected withcensorship and foreign mail, could not predict the letters that arrivedoccasionally, tattered and humble, addressed in fine, studied handwriting.Herbert smoothed the paper, which crackled as he spread it out in front of him.He fixed his spectacles more firmly onto his nose and bent down happily.“J’arrive!” Besidehim on the bench, his grandchildren sat quietly. Philip studied his toes whilehe held a green balloon. And Maria, in her ruffled smocked dress and littlesweater, bent over her English book as seriously as Herbert now bent over thehandwriting of his letter. Maria’s lips did not even move as she read; she wasconcentrating. Although the first signs of spring were coming to New York, theinterior of the library was cold and drafty. Herbert wrapped his coat moretightly around his shoulders, looking over to smile at the children. How goodthey were! So quiet and dear.He went back to the letter.Herbert and Anna Zygorzka, second cousins, had been writing to each other foryears. They corresponded in various languages, including Esperanto and French.Sometimes they alternated. Anna wrote to Herbert in German, and he answered inRussian. Then they corrected each other’s letters and started over again. Andduring that time, they also corresponded in chess.Herbert smiled as he deciphered the numbers and letters. “Aha, now I have you!”Anna had written in large, distinctive handwriting. “Check to your queen!”Herbert bent over the letter in delight. “We shall see,” he thought. “We shallsee.” He looked more closely. Undoubtedly, he could find the loophole in this.Then he laughed. She had done it. He had taught her well. But this was not theend of this particular game. Herbert still had a few tricks up his sleeve. TheRat would regret challenging the old chess master. He smiled.“Well, my dear friend,” he read in her large triumphant hand, “are you not proudof me? Guard your queen indeed, my old fox!”Herbert imagined her nose twitching in triumph. That exquisite ugliness! Herdark, shiny eyes, peering at the chessboard—he had loved to watch her sniffingaround the game. He imagined her little snort, a muted shriek of delight whenshe saw an opportunity for triumph. The Rat!Underneath, Anna had written, in an equally exuberant scrawl, a few quickwords. “The good news, my old dear friend, is that I am coming. I shall arrivesoon. I cannot say more. Speak to David.” And then, as if to paraphrase herGerman, she wrote the same message hastily in French. “J’arrive!”Herbert put the letter aside for a moment. As if disbelieving the messagewritten, he bent to it again. “J’arrive!” How could that be?Anna’s image rose in his mind. The seaside. Summer holidays with his parents.The arrival of his second cousins from Hungary. The other side of the family.The two mysterious girls, slightly younger, both, than he and his brother. Annaand her younger sister. The two girls. The two boys who awaited their arrival;a mystery unfolding.What a disappointment it had been when he had first seen the Rat. She wassmall, unprepossessing, with a long nose. And could it be? Whiskers growing outof the mole next to her nose. Well, three long hairs, to be exact. A Rat withsevere curvature of the spine, which caused her to move in a painful, crablikeway, hunched over, peering upward over spectacles.Anna and Herbert had looked at each other. Could this be the fabled cousin, solong awaited? Anna’s younger sister was nor- mal in every way. Only, she wastoo young to do anything more than tag after the Rat and Herbert and hisbrother, whining to be included. So he was stuck, summer after summer, with theRat for a companion. And a deformed Rat at that. A Rat who had to spend most ofevery day lying on a sofa, a Rat who could not stand straight when she walked,who moved slowly, pain- fully, with a little cane. A Rat with the mostbeautiful eyes, the most seraphic smile. A Rat with the face of an angel, mademore beautiful by the imperfections that called attention to her beauty. ThisRat had the power to enchant. She trembled inadvertently from time to time, asif this power were far too great for her little body to bear.One day, the Rat dared to intrude upon Herbert’s silent avoidance of her. Itwas during one of her little slow-paced promenades. Herbert hated to watch herprogress down along the sea; it was so slow and cramped. The Rat came right upto him, to the rock on which Herbert sat, thinking drearily of themeaninglessness of his life. He didn’t look at her directly, though he hadcovertly observed her approach.Anna took a deep breath, gasping as she came to a halt beside him. “Why do youavoid me?” she asked without any preamble. “Is it the way I look?”“No,” Herbert lied. He yawned.“Come.” Anna held out her hand. “We can still be friends.” She touched hissleeve. A fine vibration was coming off Anna and it flowed from her handthrough his body. Anna was shaking, her breath coming quickly in little gasps.She pressed her knees together and turned her head away.Herbert took her arm and, still not looking at her, accompanied her back to thehouse. He was furious with himself.“You know why they call me the Rat?” Anna said, still trembling, peering at himwith deep, beautiful eyes. “Do I not resemble one?” Herbert tried to be polite.“It’s true, isn’t it?” persisted Anna. Herbert wanted to tear off her shawl,gaze at the nape of her neck, her twisted spine.Anna shuffled beside him, bent over at a strange angle, leaning on Herbert.“You know,” she said forthrightly, “it’s lucky Papa has money. For I willprobably never marry. And then,” she added sadly, “who would want to marry me?”Herbert felt her resignation. He said nothing, walking beside his cousin, agirl already burdened by rejection. Her little pawlike hands pressed his elbow.“It’s true.”Herbert searched for something to comfort her. “But, Anna, you are intelligent,educated. Don’t give up hope. A young lady like yourself has a long lifeahead.” He repeated platitudes.“Do you really think so? Oh, Herbert!” Anna turned her face to his, lookingupward. “Doyou really think so? Do you think anyone will ever want to marry me?”“Of course,” replied Herbert. “Plenty of gentlemen will want to.”“Oh!”Anna’s lovely eyes misted over with joy, and her face crinkled into a smile.Herbert was delighted with the effect his words had on her, although he noticedthat she looked more like a rat than ever— a happy rat. Then inspiration hithim. “Anna, do you know how to play chess?” he asked.She looked suddenly downcast again. “No, Cousin Herbert,” she said.“Well then, I shall teach you,” said Herbert, feeling important. “We must notbe idle just because it is summer.”Soon Herbert found himself spending time with the Rat as she lay on her sofa.All summer Herbert and Anna played chess together, and the Rat was happy tofollow his lead in other things as well. When Herbert read philosophy, the Ratread every book he recommended. She listened when he read aloud to her— poetry,drama—and Herbert was delighted to have an audience for his developinginterests and adolescent self-importance. The Rat had a passionate intelligenceand was not afraid to debate with him. A willing pupil, her pleasure inlearning was intense. Herbert found he liked to spend time with her, liked towatch her long nose quiver at an idea, sniffing out the exact meaning of eachphrase. Her little hands trembled with excitement; her whiskers vibrated withjoy.At the end of the summer, the Rat was disconsolate. Her eyes were magnifiedwith the tears that fell, unwiped, on the chess- board between them. She wasmore hunched than ever. They took a last walk together, their intensityaugmented to the point where neither of them could stand it. “Let me,”whispered Herbert softly. “Let me touch you just one time.” Anna squeezed hishand. Gently, Herbert pulled back her collar and exposed the top of her spine.“I just want to look at you,” he murmured. Anna held his other hand all thewhile, squeezing tightly as she trembled, her body pressed in upon itself. Helet his mouth graze her queerly shaped body. Neither of them said a word; thiswas to be their secret. When Herbert had finished letting his lips travel thelength of her deformity, Anna swooned. She would have per- mitted himeverything, but he caught himself.He rearranged the shawl about her shoulders, helped her straighten her dress.She was still trembling. “Come,” said Herbert. He was overcome with the emotionof the situation; he wanted her, would always want her in a desperate way. “Wewill write each other during the year. And we will see each other next summer.”The Rat lifted her head, her eyes shining. “Yes,” said Herbert. “And we will correspondin different languages, we will write our thoughts and feelings and what we arereading, and we will continue our chess. Yes!” he continued, inspired by hisown brilliance, and by the happy compliance of this Hungarian girl. “And nextsummer, we shall pick up again. For this must only be au revoir, not good-bye.”He put his hand on her little paw, and her trembling stopped. She brushed atear from her whiskers.“Oh, Herbert, what will happen to me?”During the school year, they continued their separate lives, he in Vienna, shein Budapest. Their friendship grew through correspondence. Anna shared hispassion for literature and language. Ever since that first summer, while theyhad continued to correspond during their absences from each other, Herbertthought about her incessantly: her deformity, her eyes. Yet on the surface hewas getting to know other young ladies. It was as if Anna existed in a secretcompartment, a delight to be pulled out and played with only during thesummers. Their meetings each summer holiday were filled with joy. Always sheapproached him with shining eyes that drew him toward her secret. He loved tocaress her hump. More was forbidden, and when he tried more, she tightened herlegs and shook her head. Then the next minute she was welcoming him, and it wasHerbert who had to draw the line. He did not know if he hated or loved her; hewas fascinated, and yet there was something forbidden in the skirts of herdresses, something that he both sought and shunned. “Letme look at you,” he said. “I just want to look.”Herbert, of course, was to make a proper marriage, a proper Christian marriage,as was appropriate to his career in the Austrian government. His mother hadfound him Adeline, and Herbert fell dutifully, romantically in love with thebeautiful pianist.The Rat was unable to attend the wedding. Anna, the emblem of his youth, wasfar away at that point. Her family had achieved the unimaginable. They hadmanaged to buy for Anna and them- selves a Russian count. A penniless Russiancount, but a count nevertheless. The terms of this marriage were, among others,that the Rat was to leave immediately for Saint Petersburg, taking her fortunewith her.“And so, dearest cousin,” the Rat wrote, “what choice do I have? They do notexplain to us the need for such a rush. But I am only a lady Rat after all, andso I go to meet my husband happily.”Now, so many years later, in this suburb of war-torn Europe named New York, theRat’s letters began to reach Herbert again. “Our last game, do you remember?”she wrote. “I was so stupid not to cover my bishop. I lost the whole game onthat. Well, now we begin again.” Herbert smiled at her resolute handwriting anddecisive approach. “I shall go first, my friend. Do not think you can so easilywin now. I have been studying, yes, studying chess. And other things as well!”And then, as if there had been no break ever in their correspondence, Anna,choosing the first black pawn, opened the game again.Of the intervening years, she wrote not one word. And Herbert, hardly knowingwhere to begin on his and Adeline’s life and experiences, also wrote not onepersonal word in response, except to mention that he was living now in New Yorkwith David and Ilse and their dear children. Herbert had decided that it was nouse writing anything too personal, especially as he was now writing to a posterestante in Leningrad rather than to a real address. Who knew who might bereading, in fact, might even be writing, these letters concerning chess?“Andso, my dear lady, we will write of books. Literature. Yes, the literature weare reading and what is new and what is happening and what we both think aboutit,” Herbert decreed. “I have just discovered a new Italian writer,” heappended hastily to one letter to Anna, in which he had successfully avoided athreat to his last remaining knight. “His name is Leopardi. Do you know him?”Herbert then proceeded into a quick discussion of Leopardi. “Perhaps I shallfind a copy and send it to you,” he suggested at the end of the postscript,knowing it was a futilely generous suggestion.Anna’s response came six months later. “Leopardi, no, I have not heard of him.But then, I do not hear of many writers here. . . .” The words were faint andwistful. “Now, dearest Herbert, watch out for my bishop,” she wrote moreinsistently.Try as he might through his many connections, Herbert could not locate theactual whereabouts of the Rat. Perhaps she was a spy. Always the letters borethe return address of the central post office. He was careful to write verylittle of importance in his letters—not even in invisible ink.At first, it had been a surprise when her notes had started to come to him inNew York. He had been waiting in the Public Library for a meeting with a memberof a committee for refugees, when a shabby man had jostled him. “I beg yourpardon, Herr Doktor,” the man had muttered, showing bad teeth. “But I believethis is for you.” He had shoved the small envelope into Herbert’s hand, andthen, just as furtively, disappeared some- where into the stacks again.“Who is that man?” Herbert later asked some of his commit- tee members. But noone, of course, knew. “Who are you?” Herbert demanded the second time thishappened.“A friend,” replied the man. He looked at Herbert, shook his head once inwarning, and disappeared again.From then on, Herbert never asked. “Thank you, my friend,” was all he said,receiving these infrequent letters. Herbert smoothed out the crumpled paper andtried to figure out why, after all these years, Anna had decided to play chessagain.At night, Herbert held Anna’s letters up to a candle to decipher if there werean invisible message beneath her spidery inked scrawl of numbers and letters.But there was none, just the chess game, the continuation of their adolescentpassion shared.There was very little else in the Rat’s letters. The Rat had always includedparagraphs in numerous languages, not forget- ting Esperanto. Thecorrespondence between Herbert and Anna had always included at least one passagein Esperanto. It had been Herbert’s idea, one summer vacation together, thatall the cousins should learn Esperanto. He assured the others that a universallanguage, in this case Esperanto, would eventually trans- form mankind’sability to communicate and thereby bring about world peace. Herbert and hisbrother, as well as the Rat and the Rat’s sister, seized upon this ideaenthusiastically, and for a while Esperanto became their private communication,especially during mealtimes with the families.Then, years later, Herbert, for a time, gave lessons in Esperanto, zealous inhis efforts to promote this universal language. He lectured and wrote in thenewspapers on language and brotherhood; and this continued to be an interestlong after he had entered government service. But German, Hungarian, Russian,and French had all proved more useful. Herbert had used his abilities inlanguage to learn a bit of Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian; his tongue twistedaround these savage sounds. Somehow, in the clash of nations, Esperanto was, ifnot forgotten, at least put aside.Herbert’s wife, Adeline, had not showed the slightest interest in all theselanguage studies. For her, music was the only language she paid attention to.She sat at the piano, in a white dress, at dusk, and played the flowers tosleep in the garden outside. Herbert could not interest Adeline in reading; shefelt literature too far removed from the real life of feeling. Adeline had beenso beautiful, Herbert remembered. Yet, perhaps slightly . . . silly, Herberthad to admit. But it was her silliness he loved, after all. It was befitting ina woman. Or so he had thought at first. Later he had become a bit impatientwith it, but in the beginning of their relationship he had found it charming.Yet, he would perhaps have preferred to spend more time with the little Rat, topass happy hours in conversation, sharing love of books, of ideas, of chess.But this was not to be.“J’arrive!” Now, in the library, Herbert reread those last words. “Expect me! Iarrive before you know it.”At that moment, both Maria and Philip, Herbert’s grandchildren, who had beensitting so patiently beside their grandfather, began to twitch uncontrollably.Maria smoothed her dress again and again as Philip opened his mouth in a wideyawn and began to howl at the top of his voice. Maria roused herself out of herseeming passivity to cry anxiously. “Stop it! Stop it, Philip.Immediately, do you hear? Stop it!” But Philip did not stop; he was justwarming up for an operatic yowl.Herbertlooked anxiously around him. “Ach, little ones, little ones,” he said,reproving them gently as he put Anna’s letter in his waistcoat pocket.Most annoying, Maria’s grandfather was refusing to pay attention to her. Mariapulled on his sleeve, irritated. “I’m bored,” she complained. “Grandfather, I’mbored.” Her grandfather appeared not to hear. “I’m tired of waiting here.” Shelet her voice rise to a little whine, just loud enough to disturb the softwhispers about them in the library.Her grandfather appeared to shake himself out of his reverie for a moment, longenough to look at her and pronounce in an automatic and authoritarian voice,“Show me a bored child, and I’ll show you a lazy child.”With slightly more compassion, he patted her, but he still seemed abstracted.He softened, realizing it must be hard for the children always to wait here.Still, there was no place else for them to be.“A bored child is a lazy child,” he repeated more kindly. “Is that not true,Liebchen? Now surely you must have something to do. Where is that book you werereading?”“I’m tired of reading.”In the half-light of the library, far down the corridors and in the readingroom, elderly anxious faces turned away from books and newspapers toward thecommotion and clamor of Herbert’s grandchildren.Maria, in a frenzy of anger, reached over and yanked Philip’s hair. “Shut up!”she hissed at him. This had the effect of making Philip yell even louder.“Children,” Herbert clucked helplessly, reaching into a pocket for twoshriveled candied violets with which to pacify the children. But the profferedcandies did no good: both children were squirming uncontrollably. The waitinggray heads looked toward Herbert and the children pityingly. Herbert wasintensely embarrassed. In response, he closed his eyes, letting himself lapseinto a delicious torpor, almost sleep. He pushed the noise of children faraway, time for his nap.But somewhere behind him, Herbert sensed a commotion, a reverberation ofconfusion that shattered his dream state. The light in the library fracturedinto shards, as if the noise of fingernails on a blackboard had cracked it.There was the sound of scuffling somewhere, perhaps in the stacks, and thenprotesting, muffled shrieks.In answer to that, Maria leaped to her feet. “Grandfather,” she commanded,“stand up. Something is happening.” She reached over and raised little Philipto his feet beside her. Philip, surprised, stopped crying, stuck in mid-yowl.Near them, the sounds of more scuffling. Herbert still tried to feign sleep. Hetried to block out the sounds of a struggle and then, almost beside him, thefaint sounds of terrified squeaks. “Grandfather!” Maria pulled at his coat.Herbert reluctantly opened his eyes.At his feet, as if hastily deposited there, lay a small dusty bun- dle. Butthis bundle was shaking; this bundle was alive. Herbert looked more closely.The bundle opened its small dark eyes, eyes that suddenly welled with tearsand, as suddenly, with laughter. Could it be? “Anna?” he asked falteringly.“Yes, my dear Herbert. You see, ‘J’arrive.’ I have arrived! I am here.” Thecreature closed its eyes again, but the long, pointy nose quivered as tears ofjoy rolled down her cheeks. The whiskers swayed, catching the tears; three longwhiskers, now gone completely white.“Anna?” Herbert bent down and raised the bundle to its feet. “Oh, my littleRat, but what have they done to you?”“J’arrive. Je suis ici. I have arrived,” whispered Anna, clinging to his arm.“My little Rat.” Herbert cradled her, surprised. The pointy little face lookedup at him.“Oh, Herbert, do not worry. I am here now; that is what matters.”“My dear friend.” Herbert wondered how he would cope with this surprise.Anna’s face took in his wonderingly. She passed a tiny hand over his cheek, asif in disbelief. Then she peered at the children, who, suddenly silenced, stoodwatching. “And these?” she asked. “Yes,” replied Herbert. “These are David’schildren. Mygrandchildren.”“Children?” Anna breathed.“Yes. This is Maria, and this is Philip.” Herbert put his arm around the twochildren, who stood stock-still, staring at the creature beside theirgrandfather.“Dear, dear children,” Anna said. The children stared.The Rat was tiny, no doubt the smallest woman Maria had ever seen; smaller thanMaria herself. Anna, now completely bent over at right angles to the ground,twisted in a grimace of shoulder and torso as she took in the presence of thegrandchildren.Maria looked back into the face of the creature, the curved, eager mouthfringed by three long white whiskers. The huge dark eyes peered damply,red-rimmed, through spectacles. Anna’s eager face strained to penetrate theheart of the onlooker. Maria was fascinated, and immediately she fell in love,although she did not know what that felt like. She could not look away from theRat’s face and little body.“They call me the Rat,” Anna said, presenting her hand, unsteady and shaking,to each child in turn. Philip did not utter a word. Maria took the Rat’s hand,and curtsied, as she had been taught, quickly and respectfully. “Yes,” Annacontinued. “Do you not think I look a little bit like a little Rat?”Maria did not dare answer in the affirmative, for fear of offending thecreature. Grown-ups sometimes joked, but they did not expect you to joke back.The little Rat was by now so deformed that her spine resembled that of ashrimp, curved and curled onto itself, more than it did that of a rat. Mariastared at the long whiskers curving out of the mole near the Rat’s nose. Thedark red-rimmed eyes smiled kindly. These eyes were ringed with deep circles,the small face grooved with these dark bruised lines. “Yes, these circles arenew,” Anna said with a sigh, as if divining the child’s perceptions.“My dear little Anna,” said Herbert, finally finding his voice. “It does notmatter,” the Rat replied, smiling through tears and patting his arm.“And your hair?” Herbert marveled. “It has gone completely white.”“Yes,” said Anna simply. “It turned white overnight. Suddenly. From shock.” Shelooked at Herbert sadly. “But we will not speak of that now,” she said. “Now wespeak only of our happiness in being together, my dear friend.”“Come, children,” Herbert said suddenly, commanding them. In one quick motion,he bent down and picked up the little Rat in his arms. She wrapped her raggedblanket around her shrunken body as Herbert swooped her up. How small she was.Her little body lay in his arms without weight. He felt the sharp curve of herspine, and gently, almost absently, he ran his fingers over it. His fingersremembered the shape of her body, and his own echoed with memories of desire.“My dear Herbert, where are you taking me?” she asked. A cloud of dust motesrose around her clothes and hung in the air of the library, turning golden inthe late-afternoon sun that slanted into the reading room.“I am taking you back home with me,” replied Herbert firmly as he walkedslowly, carrying the little Rat in his arms, toward the large entrance doors.“Come, children.” He did not turn around to see if they were following, for, asusual, he expected and usually got total obedience from them. Maria tookPhilip’s hand, and the two children, fascinated, followed Herbert and Annatoward the door. “David’s wife is a good woman,” Herbert said to Anna. “Youwill stay with us.”“But, Herbert, are you sure?” Anna asked. Herbert didn’t answer; he was notsure of anything.“How did you find me?” Herbert was asking the little Rat as he carried her,weightless, shrunk into a third of herself, in his arms through the streets. Hebore her ceremonially, draped across his own body. The children followed,trying to catch the words of the older couple.“It was not a problem, finally,” said Anna. “You have friends. Perhaps I havethe same friends. It does not do to look too closely at such matters.”Herbert nodded yes. He was becoming resigned to yet another burden.“What matters is that they brought me to you.” Anna sighed, giving herself upto the luxury of being cradled, carried like a child, to some unknowndestination. She closed her eyes and seemed to fall into a soft trance,assuaged at the end of a long journey.“Sleep, sleep, my dear little Rat,” Herbert whispered. His heart swelled.Maria caressed Philip’s hand. “My dear little brother,” she thought. She hadrarely felt so tender toward him.When they reached the apartment building, they walked past the inquisitive eyesof Shirley, the elevator operator, who closed the iron grating once they hadentered. “Evening, Professor,” did not require an answer.They walked into the little room on the top floor. Maria’s mother looked up asthey entered the small room that was home. She straightened, wiping her handson her apron. She had been peeling potatoes, and the brown rinds lay next tothe glowing globes, white knobs of potato bones in the half-light. Herbert setAnna down; she tottered feebly, then straightened herself as best she could toher bent-shrimp position. The Rat looked upward, a tremulous, unsure half smileon her face. The children’s mother looked back intently. Then she extended herhands to the older woman, drew her close, and, putting her arms around hershoulders, led her to a chair.“So it is decided, then?” asked Herbert, looking at his daughter-in-law.“Yes, Papa. It is decided. It is fine.” Ilse looked into the face of the Rat.“Good.” Herbert said. “Danke schön,” he added quietly, so that only the airaround him heard.“You will share the daughter’s bed,” said Ilse. Maria looked up sharply, herlips parted. But something in her mother’s eyes stopped her.“Thank you,” whispered the Rat. She turned her head pain- fully, so her eyesmet those of the girl. “Thank you, child.” So it was decided, and Maria stifledher hot protest.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Kathleen Spivack’s UNSPEAKABLE THINGS   “Infused with the exoticism of poetry … Spivack concocts a glittering picture of many horrors, echoing the unspeakable things unfolding across the ocean, while managing to include some surprising, almost perverse tenderness.” –Mopsy Strange Kennedy, The Improper Bostonian   “Wildly imaginative … A stirring chronicle of survival … Heart-piercingly direct, ringing with poetry.” –Karen Campbell, Boston Globe   “Brilliant, vivid, entertaining, and often quite frightening … Kathleen Spivack’s poetic skills are evident in the precision and evocative language, her control of the tone—which is a harmony of darkness and wit—and her steadiness of focus on her characters.” –Claire Hopley, Washington Times   “Wild, erotic … daring, haunting, dark, and surreal … Unspeakable Things lives up to its title. – The Millions (Most Anticipated Books of 2016)   “Beautiful language, unusual politeness, and a tendency toward daring literature … The language is this book reaches poetic heights … Unspeakable Things breaks new ground in the genre of magical realism … I adore Spivack’s literary skills … She is a not-to-be missed new star that shines and sighs on the literary horizon.” –Book Reviews and More   “Spivack’s illumination of her characters’ loss and fears, set against blaring, brash New York in grating contrast to shadowed, tyrannized Europe, are gorgeous and despairing in their precision, yet this is not a work of straightforward historical fiction. Instead, it is a macabre fairy tale of monstrous fascinations, horrific exploitations, and desperate strategies of survival … Amid gothic eroticism and chamber-of-horrors surrealism, Spivack considers the epic betrayal of the European dream that art, culture, and rationality can triumph over hate, malevolence, and terror.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)