JEWELS AND ASHES by Arnold Zable


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 Propelled by a desire to see his parents' past--a past that was part magic, part nightmare--Zable, an Australian writer, journeys to Russia. As he travels, Zable tells the story of his parents, two Jews from Bialystok, Russia (now Poland), whose lives were lived in half-remembered stories--stories that became their only narrative: ``They left a legacy of fragments, a jumble of jewels and ashes, and forests of severed family trees which their children now explore and try somehow to restore.'' To sense the town they so often described, the streets they drew with primitive maps, Zable takes the Beijing-Moscow Express to Bialystok, a village that once belonged to a count whose ancestor, in 1745, invited the Jews to settle there and help build the town, granting them equal rights. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, 40,000 Jews migrated there, building a Great Synagogue that became the center of Jewish life. Nearly a hundred years later, after the roller-coaster of the Russian Revolution, the Nazis entered Bialystok on Red Friday, June 17, 1941, torching the synagogue, which burned for 24 hours. Fifteen hundred people died and, by the end of July, 50,000 Jews had been dispossessed and forced to construct their own prison. In 1933, however, Zable's parents and some friends had moved to Australia, as far from Siberia as they could get. But life in Bialystok was always more vivid than what they built in Australia, where they resurrected fragments of the old life, with Yiddish and Hebrew schools, communal organizations, and a constant retelling of Bialystok life. ``Above all, Father recalls the seasons. Take, for instance, the first winter snows: the remembrance remains clearer than the most recent of dreams.'' A poetic pastiche, weaving through horrible realities and sentimental memories in a dense and evocative way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-146348-4
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993