The Crooked Maid

Dan Vyleta's novel follows two strangers attempting to rebuild their lives and find answers to the mysteries that haunt them after the Second World War.

Dan Vyleta

Mid-summer, 1948. Two strangers, Anna Beer and young Robert Seidel, meet on a train as they return to Vienna, where life is just resuming after the upheavals of war. Men who were conscripted into the German army are filtering back home, including Anna's estranged husband, Dr. Anton Beer, who was held prisoner in a brutal Russian camp. But when Anna returns to their old apartment, she finds another man living there and her husband missing.

At his own house, Robert is greeted by a young maid with a deformed spine. The household is in disarray, with his mother addicted to narcotics and his stepfather hospitalized after a mysterious attack. Determined to rebuild their lives, Anna and Robert each begin a dogged search for answers in a world where repression is the order of the day. (From HarperCollins Canada)

The Crooked Maid was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

Darkness fell and the train rattled on. The boy seemed eager to start into conversation but uncertain where to begin. From time to time he would flash her a smile, red-lipped, innocent, and watch her form a smile of her own: grown-up, guarded, graceful, and quick. Once he pulled a sketchbook and pencil from his knapsack and sat as though he wanted to draw her, then flushed and tore out the page. The pencil he wedged behind his ear, where it hung for some minutes before coming loose and falling on the seat next to him. He grabbed it, smiled, put it in his pocket, then found it made a bulge in his pressed trousers, produced it again, and balanced it on the half inch of ledge beneath the window, from where it was sure to fall when they reached the next bend. His fingernails, she noticed, were freshly pared, and he had not undone a single button on his collar. There was a callus on his middle finger such as is formed by the routine use of a pen; and a small red pimple where nose tucked into cheek. That, and his eye was broken at the socket; bled its iris into the white. The woman found it hard to stop looking at this eye. It was much older than the rest of him, a mark of violence on his pretty, lively face; did not spoil it, nor yet set off its beauty, but sat instead like a fragment of some other face that had risen to the surface. He seemed to have no control over the lid. It would slide shut from time to time, droop across the waking eye like the line of the horizon, and he would raise one hand, making no effort to hide the motion, grab hold of his thick lashes, pull back the lid and stuff it into its fold under the bone. He'd smile then, and she'd grow conscious of her staring, so obvious under the boy's observant gaze; would catch herself and make an effort to look away. But within minutes her eyes had returned to his, the broken eye, and she found herself wondering whether it had any life.

From The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta ©2013. Published by HarperCollins Canada.

Author interviews

The Edmonton author explains why, in his novel, absurdity might pop up in a sad scene and how he slowly builds a story, piece by piece. 5:33