The ordeal of Europe’s Jews during and following WWII is anatomized in this chilling collection of 13 richly developed stories by the Polish author of Children of Zion (1997), himself a Holocaust survivor. Their several narrators recount with subdued (though evident) emotion the histories of their own families and neighbors in Poland and elsewhere, under Nazi occupation and Stalinist attack, in forced-labor camps, and as DPs years afterward. There is inevitable repetition, because Grynberg seems understandably compelled to remember (indeed, to list) the names and personal histories of dozens of victims and survivors. Standout entries include the litany-like title story, whose atrocities include the murder of Polish writer Bruno Schulz; a bitter dramatization of the powerlessness of religious faith (“A Pact with God”); and the ironic chronicle of the extended experience of oppression, concealment, and compromise of “A Family.” Grynberg’s spare prose renders the unthinkable with flinty terseness (“Everybody in my father’s family perished because of informers”), and fills this lovely, grief-laden book with unforgettable images (“the neverending wailing of children”—in the Warsaw Ghetto; “a woman in a burning dress with a child in her arms”).
A masterly, indispensable work.