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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Crossing the Hudson

Peter Stephan Jungk

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To purchase Crossing the Hudson

Title: Crossing the Hudson
Author: Peter Stephan Jungk
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 219 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Crossing the Hudson - US
Crossing the Hudson - UK
Crossing the Hudson - Canada
La Traversée de l'Hudson - France
Die Reise über den Hudson - Deutschland
  • German title: Die Reise über den Hudson
  • Translated by David Dollenmayer

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Our Assessment:

B : grimly amusing take on the lasting hold parents can have

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Haaretz . 12/3/2009 Michal Lando
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 27/12/2005 Marion Löhndorf
TLS . 20/3/2009 Sam Munson
Die Zeit . 8/12/2005 Jochen Jung

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his book's sensibilities straddle both continents. There are coincidental encounters that seem possible only in American fiction (or cinema) as well as existential ruminations more typical of the Germanic tradition. Jungk, who lives in Paris, seems equally comfortable with both, and has skillfully woven together an original, if at times excessively understated, tale. (...) For Jungk, fantasy and reality are often one and the same, and he is skilled at capturing the absurdity of the situation while making it entirely believable as well. (...) All of this makes for a potentially compelling book, and yet Crossing the Hudson struggles to completely live up to that promise. In part it lacks emotional resonance, a shortcoming that mirrors the protagonist's own failings." - Michal Lando, Haaretz

  • "Jungk's prose (rendered into a vigorous and idiomatic English by his translator David Dollenmayer) is limpid and particular, rarely veering into the lyrical (.....) That mountainous calm is where this novel's originality lies; modern Jewish fiction has generally preferred to depict the Oedipal struggle. A strange, durable love -- not Roth's sublimated hatred, not Kafka's fear -- reigns in Crossing the Hudson." - Sam Munson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Solche Beziehungen, wie Peter Stephan Jungk sie schildert, passen in keine Kiste, sprengen sie vielmehr. Es ist gewiss eine pathetische Geschichte, die Jungk hier erzählt, und zwar gut erzählt. Aber sie ist nicht pathetischer, als unser Anspruch an die Literatur sein sollte." - Jochen Jung, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The central figure of Crossing the Hudson is Gustav Rubin, a one-time historian turned furrier, a husband, a father, a devout Jew. But, more than anything, he is a son -- the only son of Rosa and Ludwig David Rubin. "You and only you give meaning to our lives, Father drummed into his son", but, in fact, it seems that also holds true vice versa -- more so, even, especially now that Dad is dead and has no more life to imbue with meaning .....
       Gustav married:

     But the woman he lived with and thought he loved did not become the center of his life. No, the foundation of his existence remained Father and Mother.
       Just like author Peter Stephan Jungk will always, always be known only as Robert Jungk's son, regardless of his own accomplishments, so too Gustav is overshadowed by his father-figure. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the description of Ludwig Rosa offers fits Robert Jungk to a T:
He was a sort of philosopher, but he was also a physicist and nuclear scientist and a bad poet and sometimes, way back when I first met him, a science reporter.
       (Ludwig also shares the same friends as Robert Jungk did, including Peter Weiss.)
       Gustav thinks:
It's vital to break free of one's parents, but it's quite impossible, if truth be told.
       But he certainly has a harder time than most: the novel begins with his mother meeting him at the airport after his (delayed) flight from Vienna finally makes it to New York. Together they get set to drive to Gustav's house, where his wife and kids await -- but they get stuck in a monstrous traffic jam on the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson, which is where almost all the action unfolds. Rosa is about as overbearing a mother as one can imagine, and here, where he is very much in her clutches, it's clear why Gustav has always had trouble escaping her. At least Dad is dead -- but escaping him turns out to be difficult too: not only does he cast a large shadow over his son, but when they look into the Hudson both Gustav and Rosa see the dead Ludwig -- fantastically oversized, as Dad is now literally larger than life -- floating there.
       Larkin is never mentioned but his famous line hangs over the whole novel; the wonder is, in fact, that mum and dad didn't fuck the lad up more.
       They were a close family:
     Until he was sixteen, he loved slipping into the marital bed on Sunday morning or late in the forenoon (on Sundays, his parents stayed extra long in bed). He lay between them, he in his pajamas and Father and Mother naked. Gustav was a bridge, embedded between his parents. They leaned across him to kiss each other and covered him with kisses as well. Sometimes, in the midst of being kissed, he dived down and disappeared beneath the immense featherbed, crept "underground" into imagined living spaces, nurseries, closets.
       Paging Doktor Freud ! But Gustav isn't one for psychobabble; that Viennese school isn't taken particularly seriously. (Interestingly, however, Rosa turned to a student of Freud's in New York in 1945 when she buckled under the trauma of what had happened to her family during the war: the professional's advice was: "You've got to bring children into the world. That's the only way you're going to survive" which led to Gustav, who, as "her only child, became Rosa's survival"; however, given that Gustav was only born in 1954, this isn't set out quite convincingly enough by Jungk.) Instead of psychoanalysis, Gustav turned to religion, presumably in a desperate attempt to set all that bubbled in his mind right.
       Several of Gustav's life-choices appear to have been attempts to free himself from the terrible (but also comfortable) parental strangle-hold. A promising historian, but financially dependent on his parents -- he: "had about as much money as the average eight-year-old" when he was in his early twenties -- he accepted an offer from a school friend he had lost touch with, to abandon academia and join a furrier shop on Vienna's fancy Kohlmarkt. Mom was pleased: it brought Gustav back into the family fold, in a way, as he took up her own father's profession, but the anti-intellectual choice was clearly also Gustav's white flag of surrender, acknowledging that he could never compete with his father's legacy and reputation.
       Far away from his parents -- they continued to live in California -- he gained a sort of independence, but obviously not an entirely satisfying one. His school friend and partner helpfully continued to push Gustav to transform himself, next by prodding him to embrace his Judaic roots, and pliant and still unsatisfied Gustav fell for that as well. (That partner Richard's seemingly well-meaning efforts to make Gustav better off, financially and spiritually, aren't all they're cracked up to be eventually emerges: by now the business is bleeding money and over-extended Gustav is sinking deeper into debt -- and while he has all the trappings of a successful spiritual life, that turns out to be remarkably hollow as well.)
       In becoming a strictly observant Jew Gustav hits both Mom and Dad where it hurts, the rational-minded Ludwig crying out:
You of all people, Gustav. As a historian, you must recognize your turn to piety as a betrayal of the ideals of your forefathers who were liberated from the yoke of belief ! Do me a favor, please don't get too observant, I beg you !
       But Gustav is no longer a historian, and the temptation of betrayal -- not only of the ideals of his forefathers, but especially everything his father stands for and believes in -- is too great to resist: Gustav goes whole-hog with the Judaism-thing; indeed, one of his concerns about getting stuck on the bridge is that the delay will last until sunset and the coming of Shabbat (when he'll no longer be allowed to drive or do much else). But, of course, he's tilting at windmills (or at least at a huge corpse he sees floating in the Hudson): Dad is his god, his parents are his religion. To go through the motions prescribed by Judaism looks like an alternative, but they are only motions: there's nothing really there, hard as he tries to imbue it all with meaning.
       More than just his father's accomplishments and reputation, it is Ludwig's whole overbearing and dominating personality -- perversely reinforced by the equally strong Rosa, even as she claims: "I always subordinated myself to him, always. He set the tone, not me." -- that crushed Gustav:
     Father's fantastic, everlasting capacity for hope, his unbearable kindness, completely robbed his son of confidence. Ludwig's immense productivity oten rendered Gustav powerless. The more enterprising the father, the quieter and more worn out the son.
       But Jungk doesn't portray Gustav as an impotent soul. Gustav is allowed to flail about, to try to escape. Indeed, his trip across the Hudson might allow for the necessary break -- though it don't come easy. (And what all Jungk has to resort to get Gustav there also says a lot about his predicament.)
       Gustav has a certain amount of self-awareness. Significantly, he also recognizes his parents' weaknesses, and the delusions they lived under -- including, notably, Ludwig's womanizing, which Rosa chose to remain almost entirely oblivious to.
       In a nice touch showing how closely bound together they are Jungk also has Rosa practically able to read Gustav's thoughts: to her he remains largely predictable and durchschaubar -- literally see-through, his thoughts (and hence also his essence) almost completely exposed to her. The oversized floating corpse is also a delusion that only the two of them share; they try to sound out others, to see whether other people see what they do, but of course no one else does.
       Much of Crossing the Hudson is grimly funny: Rosa is a piece of work, a mother who is completely domineering and set in her own rather peculiar ways. The jet-lagged Gustav probably wouldn't be up to handling her even if he were fit and didn't have other things on his mind, but his exhaustion and the sense of time running out as Shabbat approaches play nicely into adding some drama to the situation.
       Crossing the Hudson is entertaining and strangely compelling. While it seems grounded in a banal traffic jam, it also has the feel of grand allegory -- even with an angelic (yes, she flies) ideal woman as potential savior in the end. This does give an odd feel to the book, but then it's an odd story in any case. But, unpleasant though much of it may be, it is undeniably well crafted. Not everything is entirely convincing -- Gustav's furrier-career (and his wild years in Vienna, before he settled down) could use more explanation -- but on the whole this story of extremes is strangely believable.
       Unlike most stories of children (and adults) trying to free themselves from the vice-like grip parents have over them, Gustav doesn't seem certain that he wants to be left completely loose. Crossing the Hudson is a novel of coming to terms with a father's death; tellingly, the kaddish-period has just come to an end and, in yet another failure of religion, that didn't really do the trick for Gustav either. Instead, Jungk imagines an additional passage for the family to go through.
       It's a strange journey, but, in its own warped way, very well done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 April 2009

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Crossing the Hudson: Reviews: Peter Stephan Jungk: Other books by Peter Stephan Jungk under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       American-born (in 1952), German-writing Peter Stephan Jungk is the son of Robert Jungk.

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