WARTIME LIES by Louis Begley


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 Another novel about a Holocaust survivor's guilt--well-told except that the anguish, though regularly evoked, never really moves. Thinking of themselves as completely assimilated in their native Poland, young Maciek and his family refused to believe that as Jews they were in any danger as war neared. Maciek, a nervous and sickly child, led a sheltered and comfortable life with his doctor father, Aunt Tania, and an adored Polish nanny. But this all changed once Germany invaded Poland, and the adult Maciek, now living in a ``pleasant tranquil country,'' interspersing the narrative with commentaries on Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Inferno, recalls how he and Aunt Tania survived the war. The reflective comments are partly an expiation for the guilt he feels for the lies that he and Aunt Tania told to survive, and partly a justification for the course they chose. After Maciek's father disappeared, Tania was able to protect the family by her friendship with her sympathetic German boss--but as more and more Jews were rounded up and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto, the friendship was discovered, and Tania and Maciek had to fend for themselves. They bought false papers, pretended to be a Polish widow and son, and moved to Warsaw. To complete his disguise, Maciek attended catechism classes. More lies and ruses were needed when the Germans began their retreat, and though Tania and he survived, Maciek feels sullied by all their falsehoods--and by the fact that he has had no ``childhood that he can bear to remember.'' The settings and characters are vividly drawn, the story well-paced if familiar, but Maciek's guilt remains more an abstract concept than the haunting presence it should be.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40016-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1991


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