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THE YEAR IS ’42 by Nella Bielski

THE YEAR IS ’42

By Nella Bielski (Author) , John Berger (Translator) , Lisa Appignanesi (Translator)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-42286-2
Publisher: Pantheon

The currents of WWII alter the lives of a German officer and a Russian doctor, in a poignant but thin tale by Ukrainian author Bielski.

At the start of what often reads like the summary of a longer and, ideally, fuller work, German Wehrmacht officer Karl Bazinger arrives in Nazi-occupied Paris. Though some Parisians eye Bazinger warily, the situation in the city remains, initially at least, only subtly different from what it had been before the occupation, leaving Bazinger free to savor the city’s riches. Bazinger sports “carroty public hair” and “delicate skin,” as Bielski (Oranges for the Son of Alexander Levy, 1990, not reviewed) writes in one the few descriptive passages she provides. She concentrates primarily on a narrative structure that affects a suitably melancholy tone and moves freely and in a dreamlike way among its characters and incidents. Warned by superiors that he speaks too freely—that is, critically—about the war, Bazinger becomes curious about the activities of Hans Bielenberg, a visitor from Germany. Eventually, Bazinger’s suspicions are confirmed: Bielenberg has been part of a resistance group working against the Nazis. In the second half, the story moves to Kiev, introduces Katia Zvesdny, a doctor, then drifts into an extended segment about Katia’s father, a violinist, his wife, who deserts him, and his subsequent relationship with a singer. Meanwhile, Katia’s husband, declared an enemy of Russia for alleged sabotage, is sentenced to ten years in a camp in the north. Katia soldiers on, attempting to save Jews from the massacre at Baby Yar. One day Bazinger arrives to seek Katia’s medical help—scabs and pustules afflict his body. Almost miraculously, he forms “fragile new skin” as his sores flake off and he and Katia form a bond.

Bielski’s tone lends grace to her project, but, sans supporting detail, it seems an affectation that leaves the whole feeling rather pointless.