Franz Werfel

by Peter Stephan Jungk. Grove Weidenfeld, $22.50. Franz Viktor Werfel (1890—1945) was born in Prague to prosperous Jewish parents who considered themselves more Austrian than Jewish, although they did see that their son received rabbinical instruction. The rabbi, who had no better success than any other teacher, may have inadvertently inspired Werfel’s lifelong interest in, and sympathy for, Christianity. Werfel escaped from school as fast as possible and took to the standard young bohemian life of late hours, café gatherings, literary arguments, and, of course, writing. His poetry soon attracted attention, and his growing reputation eventually attracted Alma Mahler-Gropius, that indefatigable wedder of geniuses. Whatever one may think of Alma—and some of Mr. Jungk’s informants thought decidedly ill of her—she stuck with Werfel, fled with him from the Nazis, and kept him busily and successfully at work until his death in Hollywood. Mr. Jungk has had to deal with four cultures—Jewish, Czech, AustroGerman, and American—two wars, and numerous distinguished authors. He has also had to set people and events into the context of their complicated times. He has done this with skill and sympathy, producing a book that portrays a living man rather than that assemblage of facts that too often passes for biography.