Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Warsaw Anagrams: Review

The Warsaw Anagrams (2009) by Richard Zimler is a heartbreaking historical thriller set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The story is told by Erik Cohen, an elderly psychiatrist, who leaves a Nazi intern camp only to discover that he is no longer alive. He is an ibbur--a spirit--and no one can see him until he makes his way back to the Ghetto. There he finds Heniek Corben, a visionary man and the only person who can see this spectre from the camp, to whom he must tell his tale. The story begins in the Ghetto, so it is fitting that it can only be told where it began.
Cohen's story centers on his young nephew, Adam. Cohen, like all other Jews in Warsaw, has been forced to relocate to the Ghetto--an area surrounded by barbed wire to keep them separated from Christians. He moves in with his niece and her son and must learn to adjust to living in cramped quarters in close proximity with a young boy. Adam teaches his great-uncle much as Erik learns to love and protect his nephew and overcome his selfishness. But Adam is also savvy to the ways of the underground and risks much to bring back forbidden supplies from "The Other Side" (as life beyond the Ghetto walls is know). One night, Adam does not return home and his mutilated body is found the next morning on the barbed wire. It becomes Erik's mission to find out who did this to Adam--why was he killed and why his right leg cut off?

Erik's investigation leads him to the murders of other Jewish children--all left on the barbed wire with various parts removed and never the same parts. There are rumors that someone is taking the parts to build a golem, but Erik doesn't believe in superstition and isn't even sure he believes in God anymore. What kind of God would allow children to be brutalized like this? Erik is sure there is a darker, more horribly realistic motive behind the killing and he won't rest until he discovers it. 

Generally speaking, I don't do well with books that involve violence of any sort directed towards children. Even when I know it's not real, I just can't do it--I never could and even more so once I became a mother. But this book is so very well done and the focus is so much on Erik's investigation of the murders rather than on the details of the murders themselves, that I could enjoy it. Zimler creates a very moving and intriguing story in the midst of the overall horror of the Nazis' atrocities. He also creates a sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness by focusing on the simple, everyday activities of the Jewish people within the Ghetto--from the children going secretly to school and forming a choir to the small kindnesses that neighbors extend to one another to the few Polish Christians who risk punishment by providing what they can for the Jews they know behind the barbed wire. It is an absorbing and heart-breaking story and well worth your time whether you are looking for a World War II setting or a mystery thriller. ★★★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

This seems to be one that will keep you on the edge of your seat!