KONIN: A Quest by Theo Richmond
Kirkus Star

KONIN: A Quest

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A stunning recreation of a lost time and place--the Polish shtetl, or village, where Richmond's parents were born, and whose Jewish population was destroyed in the Holocaust. In an era dominated by ambivalence toward the shtetl--veering from Fiddler on the Roof--like nostalgia to aversion to its religious and superstitious mores--Richmond conceived a passion for Konin, the village on the Warta River that his family abandoned for London early in the century. In an attempt to recover it, he tracks down every Jewish Koniner he can find, from England to America and Israel. No doubt thanks to his experience as a documentary filmmaker, he has the wisdom to let these elderly witnesses speak for themselves--and they prove to be spellbinding storytellers. It is in the homely details of their narratives that the rich and complex lives of Jews in pre-1945 Konin come alive: from the son of the rich Jew riding to school in a fancy carriage to poor children earning a few groschen wrapping candies to a young girl finding a couple making love in the bushes. Most surprising is the affection they retain for the relatively enlightened community of Konin: ""Compared with how we live in America we were poor, but I enjoyed my poor life in Konin very much,"" says one man. Equally interesting is the role of women. The mothers who are recalled here with reverence were spirited, hardworking breadwinners who balanced the fathers' religious rigor with compassion. One mother aided her daughter in attending a Zionist camp without her father's knowledge. Of course, the Holocaust figures heavily here, each tale of suffering and survival more heartrending than the next. Richmond's trip to Konin, in the book's final section, is, despite dramatic highlights, almost an anticlimax for, as he himself admits, Konin lives not in its ancient streets but in its people. This marvelous book revives, just in time, a way of life that, when another generation has passed, will be truly irretrievable.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1995
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Pantheon