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Powerful, evocative memoirs of Lithuanian ghetto life and WW II exile in Russia, from the much-lauded author of Rabbis and Wives and Yeshiva. Appearing here 21 years after Yiddish publication and four years after Grade's death, these richly layered tales, informed by an abiding faith in Judaism, stun with their emotional--not sentimental--punch. Told in the present tense, Grade's memoirs center around his mother, Vella, a devout woman with ""green, oblong eyes"" forced to peddle apples after her husband's death. As Grade weaves the story of her courage--fueled always by her bedrock allegiance to the Jewish faith and its humanitarian principles--he brings to glorious life the sights, sounds, and ways of life of Vilna, ""the Jerusalem of Lithuania."" So vivid is Grade's elaboration of the myriad details which constitute this world--the smoke-darkened, windowless back room of the blacksmith's shop in which he and his mother lived, the local idiot who wanders the town in lice-ridden rags, the panic of a dying old woman who has no one to say kiddush for her--that he merges into the background, functioning merely as an instrument to record all around him. When the Germans invade, however, the author and his heartbreaking ordeal take center stage: his panicked flight minutes ahead of the Germans, forcing him to abandon both mother and wife; the treacherous trek into central Russia, during which possession of a passport means life or death; the senseless killings, the mind-numbing poverty, hunger, and thirst. Finally, in passages both elegiac and tragic, Grade describes his return to a now-deserted Vilna and his haunting visits to the homes of his murdered mother and wife. A masterly depiction of Old World Judaism, and, more, of the foibles and triumphs of the human spirit.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf