THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. SEIDENMAN by Andrzej Szczypiorski
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THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. SEIDENMAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Szczypiorski's US debut novel, the author's 18th, is also his first to be translated into English: a slender, incisive Holocaust novel, first published in 1986 by a Polish ≤migr≤ press in Paris and said to be a European best-seller. Jewish widow Irma Seidenman has been passing as a Pole on the basis of her blond hair, blue eyes, and false identity papers until one day she's spotted by an unsavory informer and turned in to the police. Most novelists would turn this incident into melodrama, and Szczypiorski gestures in that direction: Mrs. Seidenman can be saved only if someone will tell her employer, Dr. Adam Korda, who (not knowing she's Jewish) will pass the news on to her friend Pawelek Krynski, who will then arrange with the railway man Filipek to have her identified as German by the unimpeachable Muller. But the melodrama is short-circuited by Szczypiorski's reassuring and unsettling habit of leaving the 1943 frame of his story to jump ahead to a detailed account of the remaining years of every person involved in Mrs. Seidenman's capture and rescue. The effect is to dissolve the action (her release takes less than a page halfway through the novel) into a mosaic of people who rightly see themselves as locked in a supreme struggle, yet fated--most of them--to go on living for many years leading lives that give their wartime actions completely new meanings (Mrs. Seidenman, for example, ends her days insisting to Nazi-hunting authorities that she's not German, she's Jewish). The authorial voice here--now gentle, now sardonic, but always piercingly omniscient--takes unique advantage of its 80's perspective to create an unforgettable group portrait.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld