Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg

This slight novel is an intricate and revealing pas de deaux, a captivating performance. It is told in turns by Teo, an 85 year old former dancer and famous choreographer, and Vivi, a 42 year old artist/dabbler/waitress who is lost herself and yet inspires and ennervates Teo in ways he hasn't expected in years. As their relationship deepens, they tell not only of their presents and their differing philosophical stance on creation and art but also of their pasts and the terrible paralysing wounds they each suffered.

Passion, obsession, and the art that can so easily inspire the one to cross the line and become the other weave throughout the narrative as the reader learns of Vivi's failed love affair with German Gentile Martin and of Teo's devastating debut dance in Berlin in 1939. Both the characters, the one who survived World War II and the one who was born long after it was over, are irretrievably damaged by Hitler and anti-Semitism, haunted by their former lives in Berlin.

Vivi moved to a divided Berlin after her compulsory service for Israel so that she could follow boyfriend Martin, a man for whom she was prepared to sacrifice everything. But she is unable to reconcile the Martin who worked on a kibbutz in Israel with the Martin she joins in Germany, choosing to wander the city, drawn to the wall where she meets a dwarf who regales her with the terrible, hateful past of the city. So affected by the reality of this place so steeped in hatred and ghosts, she ultimately flees broken and devastated.

Teo had also lived in Berlin, an unwilling prisoner trapped by the war and by desire. His is not the usual WWII tale of concentration camps and horrors too terrible to recount. His terrors were also damaging and life altering though. As a young boy he had gone from Poland to Denmark to dance, heading to Berlin on the eve of WWII against his family and friends' advice to dance his debut with the Royal Danish Ballet. After the performance, on the eve of Germany's invasion of his Polish homeland, detained because of his Polish nationality and in danger because of his Jewish heritage, he is rescued by a Nazi officer with an appreciation for art and dance. And so begins his acquaintance with obsession and possession.

Teo and Vivi's stories intertwine seamlessly and their friendship with each other develops carefully as they debate and spark off of each other. Exquisite, lyrical, and intense, Fallenberg has captured the rhythms of dance in his language, the ability to inspire, to leap, and to inhabit the stars for brief flashes of time. His descriptions are visual and graceful. His musings on art and its creation through his characters' lives are fascinating as is the role of passion and singlemindedness. This is an impressive novel, tightly constructed and yet easily accessible. There are scenes of great horror but they are eased somewhat by the remove of the past and the healing of the present in the form of Teo and Vivi's growing relationship. An impressive accomplishment, the tale is riveting. The ending is a tad neatly coincidental but overall, this is a strong and gorgeous novel.

For more information about Evan Fallenberg and the book visit his webpage.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. This sounds like an amazing story. I'm partial to books set in or having to do with WWII so I think this one would be a great fit for me.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. I just reviewed this today. I absolutely loved it.

    "Exquisite, lyrical, and intense, Fallenberg has captured the rhythms of dance in his language, the ability to inspire, to leap, and to inhabit the stars for brief flashes of time."

    That's a perfect way to sum up this book!

    I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts