TRACES by Ida Fink


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 A quietly harrowing third book (and second story collection, after A Scrap of Time, 1987) from the Polish Holocaust survivor and author. Hardly a voice is raised throughout these 21 vignette-like pieces, which nevertheless contain worlds of implication about the destruction of a culture, plus the mingled resilience and despair exhibited by those who outlived their nearest and dearest. Simple, conversational language and a reserved focus on domestic minutiae effectively underscore Fink's subtle emphasis on the miraculous nature of simply having survived. Her collection has the effect of a song cycle in which a central melodic theme is repeated with what seem infinite variations. The characters include a teenaged girl who intuits the transitoriness of her own and her young lover's brief happiness (``The End''); a timid accountant who returns after years of working in a city to his parents' village, only to find its residents being marched away to their deaths (``A Closed Circle''); and a luckless young mother (``Sabina Under the Sacks'') who, having escaped a painful arranged marriage, cannot escape the approaching SS. Fink can construct a powerfully echoing story from the simplest materials imaginable (in ``In Front of the Mirror,'' a girl vainly primps before her dressmaker, trying to blot out remembrance of both their murdered families), or stun you with a story's simple climactic, unanswerable question: ``Did you ever see someone who was killed in the war but is still alive?'' Further evidence of her genius for understatement is displayed in two tales presented as playlets: ``Description of a Morning'' and the superb title piece, a Rashomon-like account of a middle-aged woman's quest to learn whether her long-missing sister has or has not survived the war. Few books about the Holocaust are as moving as this one. It seems almost cruel to say so, but one hopes Fink has more stories to tell. (First serial to the New Yorker, Story, Venue, and the Threepenny Review)

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-4557-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997