In European myth, at least until 1948, exile was the defining condition of the Jews. Their wandering habits were dignified by Walter Benjamin as Irrkunst (the art of getting lost). In the library, among a plethora of texts, he was an adept; in life he was artless. Cornered, in 1940, in Portbou on the Franco-Spanish border, with the Gestapo on his tail, he committed suicide, after sharing his stock of morphine tablets with Arthur Koestler, who lived another forty-three years before euthanising himself in London.
One of Benjamin’s many unrealised projects was a book that would consist only of culls from already existing material; he would do no more than arrange and edit. Evelyn Juers adopts something of this method in unfolding the long story of the brothers Mann and of their circle