This novel is the intertwining story of Peter Weston, an idealistic student of architecture, and Benjamin Adler, an immigrant sculptor and a Holocaust survivor. Peter dreams of harmonizing our inescapable urban environment with man and nature once again, as it had been throughout history up until our modern age. But the harsh realities of a money-obsessed society, and his irreconcilable differences with his architect father—whose motto is a building is a machine—frustrate his humanistic aspirations. Benjamin lives alone amid nightmarish dreams, haunted by shadows, the excruciating memories of the past. He has lost his faith in God, in art, in man, in himself; he has given up all his ambitions, convinced of the futility of art, of life itself.
Peter, through falling in love, gains a new determination to rehumanize architecture, but tragic events cast him into a seemingly insoluble dilemma, forcing him to sacrifice the present to atone for the derailed life of his family. Benjamin—when a woman, an outcast of society, instills into him a yearning to rekindle his art—must first obliterate the past: the shadows that haunt him, the enchanting yet tormenting memory of another woman that holds sway over him.
The basic themes of the book: the influence of mans self-constructed environment on him, the role—or the lack—of art in his life, and his search for a spiritually satisfying existence are timeless and universal, and they elevate Shadows on the Wall into a truly international novel. Unfolding during one eventful summer in the mid-1950s in California, with flashbacks from prewar and wartime Poland, the novel weaves a colorful tapestry of human destinies. Beauty and ugliness, God and the Devil, idyllic love and debauchery, cruelty and goodness, the flaunting frivolity of the haves and the plucky pride of the have-nots—life, real yet mysterious, throbs on the pages of this novel with intriguing characters and mesmerizing episodes that linger on in our minds long after we have closed the book. Often starkly realistic, Shadows on the Wall is also a great romantic story.
Architecture used to be the mother of all arts because it would nurture all of them. The novels dramatic presentation of all the fine arts in our modern age as they impact the characters fates is an unprecedented feat in contemporary fiction. The purpose of art, the author believes, is to help people become better human beings. He buttresses his claim with powerful arguments, keen human insight, an almost visionary foresight, and with an erudite, sophisticated understanding of the moving forces of art and culture.
This book is for the thinking man, for the questing mind. It confronts the enemies of permanent things, who deconstruct values and universals as they foment discivilization, heedless of the consequences. The ambitious scope of the story, its emotional richness, fascinating ideas, meaningful dialogues that empower and deepen the drama, the celebration of life, and the vivid portrayal of mans struggle with the evil of his world make Shadows on the Wall unique in American literature. It is one of the most moving, thought-provoking, and intelligent novels written in recent decades.
Published by Orpheus Press
Copyright © 1991, 2002 by Joseph Zsuffa
ISBN: 0-915648-57-1. Hardcover, 464 p., $35.00