I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is a hearfelt attempt to reconstruct the experiences of various members of the author’s family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins) during the Holocaust. On the other, however, the writing does not flow easily, and the fact that the narrative is mainly (though not solely) in the present tense jars on my sensibilities as a reader.
The book is divided up into chapters, each one recounting the vicissitudes of one of the characters/members of the Kurc family, first in Poland and then in the various parts of Europe and the Americas where fate finds them. Although the frontispiece of the book contains a diagram showing the relations between the members of the core family, I found it difficult to keep track of them all. Somehow, despite the author’s best efforts, they are not suffiently characterized or differentiated, which makes it difficult to keep track of who is who and where each one is at any given time. The insertion between chapters of brief factual accounts of the events of the period is helpful.
Of course, any Jew living in Europe during the Second World War was in danger, hunted down and at peril of being incarcerated in a ghetto, Nazi jail or, worst of all, a concentration camp. That sense of persecution pervades most of the book, and it is right and proper that it should do so. In addition, the different ways the various family members managed to evade capture are described in illuminating detail, giving the reader some insight into how some Jews managed to survive that terrible period.
But the quality of the writing is uneven, at best. Despite the author’s – and presumably also the editor’s – best efforts, there are far too many grammatical errors, malapropisms and unfortunate phrasings for my personal taste. The book is touted as having been on the New York Times’ best-seller list. I find that very hard to believe, and all I can say is that if it’s true it doesn’t say much for the judgment of the American reading public.