Three very bad days in the Ukraine, November 1941.
Seiffert’s (The Walk Home, 2014, etc.) contribution to the ever growing shelf of Holocaust fiction provides an emotional close-up of the experiences of several characters in a small Ukrainian town on the day the German troops arrive to round up the Jews, the day the nightmare begins in earnest: a brave, desperate teenage boy who runs off at dawn with his younger brother hours before their other family members are herded with every other Jew in the area into a holding pen. A young woman from the surrounding countryside whose boyfriend has finally returned from service with the defeated Russian troops. That beaten, desperate young man himself, who has no idea what’s coming when he next signs up with the Germans. A German engineer who has taken on a road-building project out here in the boonies, naively thinking it will allow him to avoid involvement in the worst crimes of the Reich. As the SS troops storm into town, unleashing a torrent of madness, terror, and murder, the main characters are forced into the most difficult and most important decisions they will ever make. Of course their paths will cross. Of course at least one of them will make a serious mistake. It seems wrong to call a Holocaust novel predictable; the reason we keep retelling and rehearing this story is not because we don’t know how it ends. It is because we do. This novel allows the reader to imagine and to empathize, to have a vivid moral experience, while managing to avoid the surfeit of violent, horrific detail that can sometimes result in a kind of genocide porn.
All the notes of the Holocaust song, including the rare ray of hope, are played in this spare, fast-moving novel.