Helen Janeczek joins an illustrious group of novelists who have found a deep wellspring for fiction in the Spanish Civil War ... Rather than tell Gerda’s riveting story in a straight-ahead work of biographical fiction, Janeczek has created the exceptionally intricate The Girl with the Leica, translated by Ann Goldstein and winner of the prestigious Strega Prize, in which she portrays Gerda through the eyes of three people who loved her, true-life individuals with extraordinary stories of their own ... Janeczek’s demanding, allusion-saturated, multiperspective novel portrays a circle of valiant dissidents and ventures into many spheres, but the focus always swings back to resplendently determined, courageous, and creative Gerda.
Left to mourn Gerda are partner Endre Friedmann, who went on to claim the name Robert Capa; an old female friend; and two ex-lovers, including Dr. William Chardack, later known as the pioneer of the implantable pacemaker. Their remembrances of Gerda are told here in alternating chapters ... a work filled with impenetrable prose, scant action, and an unsatisfying portrait of a woman with a brief, if eventful and interesting life.
For long stretches, little happens. Gerda is seen only through a glass darkened by resentment. But the chief hurdle for readers of English is the prose. Surprisingly, Goldstein's translation fails to unknot frequent syntactic snarls ... Flirts dangerously with unreadability.