JACOB THE LIAR by Jurek Becker


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A strange book about a Polish ghetto under the Nazi heel. Becker, a concentration camp survivor who lives in East Germany, where the book first appeared, writes keenly, without schmaltz or artificial despair in his style. But the theme is oddly composed of both. In bare outline, it is horrible: Jacob, one of the Jews in the enslaved shtetl, hears by chance a German radio report of the Soviet advance that will liberate the occupied territories. When he gives others the news, they are so heartened that he begins to pretend he has a radio, and to manufacture further news. The heartening effect consists of self-centered fantasies: a young couple becomes engaged and plans a future house, the beautiful seven-year-old girl who lives with Jacob is told about eating butter. After Jacob decides to abandon his ""Big Lie,"" his friend Kowalski kills himself; as the whole village is deported, Jacob takes pains to bring the little girl along. The atmosphere is eerily cosy. More typical than hunger and death is the German guard who leaves the slaves cigarettes after a beating, and no Jew informs on Jacob's supposed radio though the whole shtetl knows about it. The young couple, the little girl, the grumpy friend who risks death for what he considers Jacob's lunacy, carry only wishful credibility. The reader is left wondering whether Becker himself fully acknowledges the ironies of a situation in which people received false comfort under hopeless circumstances.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich