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University of Iowa News Release


April 24, 2009

UI Writers' Workshop student Dr. Austin Ratner reads May 4

Austin Ratner, a medical doctor and a graduate student in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, will read from his fiction debut, "The Jump Artist" at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 4, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The free event will be streamed live on the University of Iowa Writing University Web site, and then will be available through the Writing University archive.

"The Jump Artist" is based on the true story of a renowned photographer, Philippe Halsman -- a man Adolph Hitler knew by name, who Sigmund Freud wrote about in 1930 and who put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine. Surviving an episode that presages the horrors of WWII, Halsman transforms himself from a victim of anti-Semitism into a purveyor of the marvelous.

Charles Baxter called the book, "A beautifully scrupulous, intricately detailed novel about joy and despair, anti-Semitism and assimilation, and like a great photograph, it seems to miss nothing, and to catch its subject in all his complexity."

The story begins in September 1928, when Halsman and his father were hiking in the Tyrolean Alps. While Halsman went ahead on the trail, his father was attacked and murdered. The Jewish 22-year-old from Latvia found himself alone in hostile territory: Nazism was on the rise and Innsbruck's foremost forensic pathologist, Karl Meixner, and others saw to it that Halsman would be tried for killing his father.

Though the details are now lost in the shadow of the Holocaust, they were then known across Europe as "The Austrian Dreyfus Affair." Many intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, came to Halsman's aid in a public battle that pitted reason against emotion.

Ultimately, Halsman transformed himself from a victim of history into the world-famous Life photographer who defined American postwar optimism.  However, he kept his tragic past a secret.

Relying on historical documents newly translated from German, the novel traces the arc of Halsman's personal life from fear, distortion and despair to courage, truth and joy.

Ratner holds an M.D. from John Hopkins School of Medicine and was the co-author of the textbook "Concepts in Medical Physiology." His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines.

The Writers' Workshop is a graduate program of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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