Seeking a larger publisher for Hungry Generations: In September of 1972, Jack Weinstein – a young composer – arrives in Los Angeles, seeking a job in the movie studios, and he develops a friendship with Alexander Petrov, a great piano virtuoso, one of the émigré European geniuses in flight from Nazi Germany, who raised their families in L.A. The pianist tells the young man stories of his life from the thirties to the present and of those expatriates living in Los Angeles during World War II. The novel paints a vivid portrait of the conflicts and struggles which erupt in that community. During the year of the novel, Jack composes a piano sonata infused with his love of Petrov’s famed recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and his obsession with the music of Stravinsky and Schoenberg as well as Beethoven, who begin to enter Jack’s dreams.
Alexander Petrov is nearing seventy and tries to maintain himself amid conflicts with his wife and his adult children. Jack soon becomes a catalyst for confrontations in the family. He falls in love with the pianist’s daughter, Sarah, and in one climax, the father – jealous and desperate – assaults his daughter’s lover. The son Joseph is a pianist himself, who also befriends Jack; resentments build and erupt between son and father. Also, Joseph is gay, and after a drunken, surreal New Year’s Eve party at the Polo Lounge, he makes a pass at Jack. Then there is Petrov’s wife, Helen, and her confession to Jack about Petrov is another climax here. Hungry Generations is a magical, fascinating novel about the confrontation between grown children and their émigré parents, who survived the Holocaust at the peculiar remove of Los Angeles. [A related novel, about the family of a survivor of the Armenian genocide, is The Ash Tree (2015).]
Fiction in Brief:
Daniel C. Melnick
18lpp. New York: Lincoln, Shanghai, iUniverse. $14.95.
0 595 30803 1
Daniel C. Melnick, the author of scholarly books on music and literature, has written a thoughtful and engaging novel about three musicians living in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Petrov is an ageing pianist who no longer performs; his homosexual son, Joseph, is also a concert pianist, playing on the university circuit in second-tier cities; and Jack, their friend, is a studio composer for United Artists in Hollywood. There are also sisters, brothers, mothers, in-laws, a whole kith and kin from the first and second generations of intellectual Jewish families who came to America around the Second World War. The aged Petrov pines for his musical colleagues who arrived in Los Angeles when he did _ Stravinsky, Bruno Walter, Schoenberg, Bartok, Werfel and remembers discussing Adomo's Philosophy of Modern Music, and recalling Thomas Mann, Alma Mahler, Berthold Brecht and Bruno Fried from that brief period of time when writers and composers congregated in the great post-war energy of Los Angeles.
Joseph lacks the powerful memories of his father. Los Angeles is now full of hipster singers and tawdry starlets. Their glory is of money, a commercial process. The story starts in the early winter of 1972, and closes the following autumn, but plot is not the main point of Melnick's short novel, which describes the pained relationship between Petrov and his son. The father is a powerful man with an intense focus; the son, though accomplished, remains timid. Slowly the hostility between the two leads to an agonizing confrontation which ends in disaster. Joseph has been unable to overcome the uncertainties of his youth, and continues to see his father with an adolescent fear and rage. Petrov never really leaves the 1940s. If Adorno had been a novelist he might have written of Petrov's world and his musical sensibilities. Melnick seems to have absorbed the tragedy of music which Adorno knew so well.
Hungry Generations gives a vivid picture of Los Angeles, particularly the western side: Beverly Hills, Brentwood, the famous boulevards of the rich moguls and the nearly rich artistes. Money is evident. Yards are carefully tended by Japanese gardeners, luxurious cars crawl up Benedict Canyon Drive. Against this background, Daniel Melnick depicts a tragic conflict between an old man and his son. This novel cannot be for everyone, but for those who know and can lose themselves in serious music, it will be supremely satisfying.
JOHN A C. GREPPIN
--Times Literary Supplement (London), May 21, 2004
In this poetic story…the friendship [between Alexander Petrov, a legendary classical pianist, and Jack Weinstein, a young studio composer] is more than combustible; it marks a collision of cultures and world: Petrov’s Europe, decimated by the Nazis, and Jack’s fantasyland of Hollywood – a past that haunts the soul versus a present that has none. · ·
--The Plain Dealer, May 31, 2004