Polish writer Krall transmutes the real experience of a Holocaust survivor into an emotionally bleached yet devastating account of where love can take us.
In a shockingly matter-of-fact tone, Krall (The Woman from Hamburg and Other True Stories, 2005, etc.) recounts the horrors of Jewish suffering during World War II in brief chapters and a terse narrative voice: “Shayek leaves to fetch his sisters but comes back without them. They committed suicide, after poisoning little Szymus. Shayek tried to find out where they were buried, but the man who dug their grave is no longer alive either.” Without preamble, her short novel plunges the reader into the midst of life in the Warsaw ghetto, where bombs, lice, typhus, and death are everyday events. The book’s running refrain when someone disappears is: “That’s too bad….We’re still here.” The narrative belongs to Izolda Regensberg, who meets her husband, Shayek, on Page 1 and spends most of the remaining pages trying to save him, first from Auschwitz and later Mauthausen concentration camps. Initially she escapes from the ghetto and works to save her own family and Shayek’s, dyeing her hair blonde, taking on an Aryan identity, and accepting rape by policemen as a form of currency. Her nightmare picaresque journey of arrests, escapes, and desperate negotiations continues after Shayek’s arrest. She is sent into forced labor, beaten and tortured by the Gestapo, later dispatched to Auschwitz herself, and yet her indomitable resilience pushes her ever forward—and the occasional chapters set 25 years in the future, in Israel, with Izolda surrounded by grandchildren, confirm she will survive. But it’s Krall’s unique voice that dominates this detached, surreal, curiously playful tale of a woman of indefatigable resourcefulness trapped between history and her heart.
A quirky but exceptional story of infinite love and life-sustaining commitment.