By Fred Uhlman
Vintage Classics, £9.99
What's in a name? At a certain point or place in history one might decide "too much". When high-school student Hans Schwarz meets new boy Konradin von Hohenfels there is an immediate attraction. Opposites, according to their background, they share a love of poetry (especially Hölderlin) and of early coins (particularly Corinthian). What unites them is profoundly romantic - but not sexual. For these were still innocent days when even senior pupils "were not yet very interested" in such matters; amorousness was filtered through high art.
Hans's first view of the high-born, high-minded Konradin was as he "followed Herr Klett [the headmaster] into the Württemberg classroom as Phaedrus might have followed Socrates".
Yet this was 1932, when innocence was being forcibly jettisoned and boys obliged to exchange their short lederhosen for more military attire and lines of caste were rapidly being redrawn as battle lines. Social distinctions that already divided the sensitive Jewish intellectual from the aristocratic von Hohenfels (in his long trousers) would be forcibly politicised.
A delicate coming-of-age tale where the reader initially suspects love of a common culture will triumph over class prejudice and family tradition, becomes instead the prelude to chaos.
Each stage of the descent is marked by this overriding relationship as the pressures and fissures develop. The novella holds a neo-Greek tragedy in its 79 pages. And, however violent the forces against it, it contains the titular "reunion", ultimately even redemption. Hans's narrative voice grows increasingly resonant as he relates the war and its aftermath from start to end. He strikingly presents a formative, mutually inspirational, and aspirational, relationship, confronted by insurmountable forces, in which who wins, loses or survives shifts and surprises to the final page.
Uhlman himself, took a law degree in Tubingen in 1923 and fled to England in 1933, establishing himself as a figurative artist (painting deceptively tranquil scenes of Welsh cottages, Greek islands, and the Queen's coronation) and founded the German League of Culture (with Oskar Kokoschka and Stefan Zweig).
Reunion has something of its own history: published in 1971, when Uhlman turned 70, it was reprinted in 1977 with an introduction by Arthur Koestler. In 1986, Jerry Schatzman made the film from Harold Pinter's screenplay and, in 2010, Ronan Wilmot directed the stage version at Dublin's New Theatre.
Reunion resembles that other small masterpiece, Death in Venice, by Uhlman's compatriot Thomas Mann. Its setting may be drastically different but, in a classic, what prevails is strength of spirit over the will to power.