Highlights from the life of singer Vera Gran (1916–2007) give a deeper look into the cost of surviving the Holocaust and the struggles that haunt those who did.
Tuszynska (Lost Landscapes: In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland, 1998) begins with Gran’s final years before returning to her subject’s childhood. The author follows the star through the shyness of youth and her first dance lessons to her decision to sing professionally. All of this is background to Gran’s eventual success as a nightclub singer in the Warsaw ghetto. Tuszynska chronicles Gran’s wartime life—she escaped before the ghetto was closed off, then bribed officials to let her back in before finally escaping again a few years later—and discusses her visits with her subject. The author renders the World War II years in great detail, but the meat of the book lies in the accusation that Gran collaborated with the occupied forces in Warsaw and her vigorous, lifelong self-defense. The author fleshes this section out with witness accounts. With the constant changes in scene and the muddled nature of the accusations made, the book is challenging and can be difficult to follow. While Gran’s accompanist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is mentioned in the subtitle and brought up frequently throughout the narrative, his role in the book is actually quite small and ill-defined. It’s as though Gran decided he was responsible for her fate, so Tuszynska felt the need to weave him into the story regardless of evidence. The author clearly has unanswered questions about their relationship, but his somewhat central role in the story makes little sense.
A great choice for Gran devotees or World War II enthusiasts, but too limited in scope for general readers.