MAREK AND LISA by Henia Karmel-Wolfe


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The romantic postwar reunion of Holocaust survivors is often an occasion for heaving sentimentality--but Karmel-Wolfe, author of a restrained, touching Holocaust novel (The Baders of Jacob Street, 1970), again manages to endow a familiar scenario with quiet, sparely detailed tenderness. The first half is particularly effective, free of clichÉs. Lisa, a young Polish-Jewish woman, is in a dreary German hospital--recovering from gunshot wounds suffered during a pre-liberation deathcamp march. Ill, numb, disoriented, Lisa remains passive, unconcerned about her treatment--unlike her breezy hospital neighbor Natalia, who insists on wearing a Hitler Youth dress with a Red Star (gift of a Russian soldier). In fragments, Lisa recalls the war years: the rising Nazi threat in Krakow; the impetuous marriage to young Marek, who had some fake Aryan papers; her reluctant, necessary abortion; their months of impersonating non-Jews--until an informer's betrayal led to their separation, deported to different camps. And then, befriended by a half-Jewish couple that's prominent in the new Polish government, Lisa returns to Krakow--slowly recovering the will to live, summoning up the strength to start searching for her probably-dead husband. The second half, of course, switches to Marek--who has also survived, immediately seeking Lisa's trail. He learns that she was shot, left for dead; he joins other survivors in dealing with impulses toward vengeance; he prays, asking ""forgiveness for having renounced his name, for having renounced his faith, for not crying enough, for forgetting too soon."" But finally, accepting Lisa's death, he joins ""Operation Escape,"" the underground for transporting Jewish refugees to Palestine--an involvement which will lead him (a bit too neatly) to the ultimate, reaffirming reunion with Lisa. Somewhat predictable and slightly saccharine, then, especially towards the end--yet largely convincing, dotted with acute specifics (e.g., a young woman who hangs out at the Jewish Search Center, preying on bereaved men), and gently affecting.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Dodd, Mead