A brilliant forger’s 29-year resistance against oppression.
When she was 24, Kaminsky proposed to her 78-year-old father, Adolfo Kaminsky, that she write the story of his life as a forger of documents that saved thousands of lives, beginning with French Jews under Nazi occupation and continuing to include Algerians, anti-Franco activists, and others who fought against “inequality, segregation, racism, injustice, fascism and dictatorships.” He agreed but had one question: “do you know if there’s a statute of limitation?” In her engrossing literary debut, Kaminsky chronicles Adolfo’s career, which began when he was 17, a self-taught chemist who had gained incomparable technical knowledge from working as a dyer. Forged papers saved his own life and those of his father and siblings after they were released from the Drancy concentration camp, and soon he joined the Resistance, proving himself tireless, talented, and inventive. Once his expertise became known, he and a clandestine team were overwhelmed with orders for passports, identity papers, “travel permits, rent receipts, library card, sales slip for a store, bus or cinema ticket, railway ticket,” drug prescriptions, and even crumpled personal letters: in short, “everything a man might carry with him and which, should he be caught, might save his life.” After the war, he worked for a secret network to transport concentration camp survivors to Palestine, and later his forgeries aided freedom fighters in Algeria, Greece, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and across Latin America. Throughout his career, Kaminsky refused to accept payment for his work, believing that taking money would be mercenary: “I’d make working for nothing an absolute principle, for it alone guaranteed my total independence of the networks and kept my commitment incorruptible.” He gave up forgery only when he knew his cover had been blown, requiring him “to vanish into thin air.”
Writing in Adolfo’s voice gives this suspenseful narrative candor and immediacy.