HUNGER'S ROGUES: On the Black Market in Europe, 1948 by Jacques Sandulescu

HUNGER'S ROGUES: On the Black Market in Europe, 1948

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Books about grim times are rarely entertaining without being bitter or grotesque, but this one is straightforward, even innocent entertainment -- maybe partly because Sandulescu entered the Black Market era in post-World War II Europe from something even worse: a mid-winter escape from a Russian labor camp and near-starvation (the subject of his first book, Donbas, and the introduction to this one). In the chaotic Germany of occupation, displaced person camps, strict food rationing and black-marketeering, at least he could eat -- but only by using his wits, and that's what this book's about. Sandulescu at 19 quickly got away from trading crowds shuffling around in front of train stations and joined the self-made elite of the black market -- vigorous and enterprising characters like Vasile, an overpowering Corsican banditto who took over a whole DP camp, or Mischa, a rascally lieutenant who emphatically didn't want to go back to the USSR. These people took risks to eat well and to escape the prevailing depression, and the risks Sandulescu took in their company included disguises (as an American soldier, which took chutzpah), chases across forbidden borders, a moonshining operation with stolen sugar, the robbery of a Nazi aristocrat's castle and a scheme to sell millions of Bulgarian cigarettes to Algerian gangsters in Paris! The adventures are in strong primary colors against the gray background of the times (and it's a gray you can taste); the writing is simple and cinematic, and does a good job of recapturing the feel of a young-old boyhood. Episodic and at times a bit flat between adventures, but on the whole a sort of rooted-in-reality, European M*A*S*H.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1974
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich