Paul and Paula: A history of separation, survival and belonging
Monash University Publishing, $32.99 pb, 207 pp
In Working: Researching, interviewing, writing, published in 2019, the great biographer Robert A. Caro tells of his writing methods and the lengths to which he goes to gain a better understanding of his subject. Reading Tim McNamara’s Paul and Paula, I was reminded of Caro’s way of research and writing and of his determination to place himself in his subject’s milieu. McNamara spent considerable time in Vienna researching Paul and Paula, stalking the streets for clues, and his efforts show. He writes with verve about the book’s three main characters – Paul Kurz and his wife, Paula, and the city of Vienna, before and during the Nazi occupation – and his search to uncover and understand their stories.
Much like Caro with Lyndon Johnson, the story of Paul and Paula Kurz followed McNamara across a lifetime. For McNamara, this work was a labour of love. He met Paul Kurz, an industrial chemist, in Melbourne in 1968, when Kurz was approaching seventy and he was nineteen. Kurz was learned and thoughtful, a wise and welcoming presence for McNamara and his university friends. As they struggled with existential questions provoked by their youth and the heady times, Kurz seemed often to have the answer, through study or experience. McNamara came to see Kurz as a father figure, reassuring and beneficent.