Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Richard Zimler - The Varsaw Anagrams

Warsaw, 1941--an exhausted and elderly psychiatrist named Erik Cohen makes his way home to the Jewish ghetto after being interned in a Nazi labor camp. Yet only one visionary man--Heniek Corben--can see him and hear him. Heniek soon realizes that Cohen has become an ibbur--a spirit. But how and why has he taken this form?

As Cohen recounts his disturbing and moving story, small but telling inconsistencies appear in his narrative. Heniek begins to believe that Cohen is not the secular Jew he claims to be, but may, in fact, be a student of practical Kabbalah?of magic. Why is he lying? And what is the importance of the anagrams he creates for the names of his friends and relatives? Heniek traces his suspicions and comes to an astonishing conclusion?one that has consequences for his own identity and life, and perhaps for the reader's as well.

Comment: Another read because of a book club.
I had seen this author's name often in my local library. I always imagined it would be boring, detailed stories, describing monotone behaviors that would be as much appealing to me as eating shrimp, which is to say...not at all.
I'm happily proven wrong because I loved the author's book. I mean, the story is too sad, but I liked reading it. What a paradox it can be sometimes, isn't it? To enjoy a story /book but not the book/story? Anyway... apart from surprises and wrong impressions from things we didn't know of, this author has written a moving story but also very sad like I said. I cried a couple of times because if it's awful to read about it, how much more awful, how much hard was it to bear the pain of it in flesh? This thought crossed my mind many times, and after reading this and after some talks I've had with people, I still think how many German people feel the burden of their heritage, specially because so many were innocent in all that but the world sees the whole, not the details...

So, the book is obviously about the Nazi oppression. This story focuses on the Jews living in a neighborhood in Poland, forced to live in ghettos before deportation to concentration camps. We go through so many details of their lives, of the lack of food and dignity they were forced to suffer and it's like a slap in the face to think the only rational living creature in the planet can be so stupid and illogical.
The main plot is how Erik Cohen tries to find out what happened to his nephew (almost a grandson actually) after he was killed and dumped in barbed wire for the Jews to find and see. The whole book shows us Erik's thoughts and actions to discover the truth with the help of friends. During this, we get to see little things about what life was for those people and how they were reduced to live like animals, worse than that while Nazi Germans ate what they wanted and did what they wanted. Two scenes didn't leave my head until this day, how Erik as a psychologist is asked for a German lady to see her daughter because she tried to commit suicide and when told he would be paid, he only asked for food. The other is how a 14-year-old living only with her mother in the ghetto wanted to have sex with 60-something Erik because she didn't see any way to gain money so she and her mother could have the first meal in a week.
This was real, I'm sure. The story is fiction but Holocaust did happen. Jews were killed. Jews were forced to live horribly before dying. It's not the fact the fictional story impressed me, it did, but to know this is a book after real things that happened in our world, to real people in real places is still such a shock.
In the end of the book the reader is left thinking a couple of things about the story, which I'm still a bit confused about, but to be honest, after finding out the guilty person for the killing of Erik's nephew, it's the truth behind the fiction that stays on. This book is worth for its reality.
I really liked this, despite how sad it was, and I'll try more books by him for sure, but not so soon..it's really very emotional and it can drain one's chest like I never imagined.

So, things to keep in mind after reading this post: Reality can be worse than we imagine, we can have wrong ideas about things we never tried before and how common it is to enjoy stories when the book sucks and vice versa.

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