From Tehran to Tel Aviv

So there we were, two Israelis, an Iranian Jew and an Iranian Muslim, all writers, sitting on a stage at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building. The occasion for the gathering was the publication of two anthologies of short stories, “Tehran Noir” and “Tel Aviv Noir,” featuring contemporary writers from each city. That’s “noir” as in “film noir” or “noir fiction” — “a genre,” Wikipedia tells us, “characterized by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity.” But, of course, there was more to this event than what was announced on the library’s flier. You could sense it — the awareness of the symbolism of this moment, how it felt so easy and natural, something that could — should — be unremarkable because it’s so common, but that was, in fact, so unusual. 

“Can we not go there right away?” Etgar Keret, one of the Israelis who edited “Tel Aviv Noir,” had asked the moderator minutes before we began the conversation. “Can we not make it political from the start?” Never mind that all writing is political; Keret wanted to talk about the art and craft of it instead of what it all meant. The moderator, Rick Moody, was eager to oblige. Yet, somehow, the first question he asked was about the role of censorship in the Tehran stories. 

“Tehran Noir” is the love child of author Salar Abdoh, an Iranian-born New Yorker who spends part of each year in Tehran. He handpicked the contributors and translated the works from the original Persian with uncanny precision into English. It starts with an introduction by Abdoh and ends in Los Angeles, with my story “The Gravedigger’s Kaddish.”

“Back in the day,” Abdoh writes in the opening lines of his introduction to the anthology, “so my mother tells me, on the rare occasions when my father took her along to one of the cabarets of old Tehran, the tough guys — the lutis — the bosses, the knife brawlers, and the traditional wrestlers, would lay out their suits and jackets on the floor of the place for my mother to walk on. It was a gesture of supreme respect for one of their own. And it says a lot about a Tehran that simply doesn’t exist anymore.” (“Tehran Noir,” p.15)

Abdoh was born to Muslim parents, but he knows more Hebrew than I can muster. He lost more to the revolution than most of us can fathom, but he’s managed to make his peace with the past, maintain a connection with the place and harbor the faith that, no matter how hopeless the current circumstances may seem, this, too, shall pass. 

An unemployed young man on Tehran’s Mowlavi Street decides to go into the drug trade because he’s “tired of watching everyone get ahead except me.” An Afghan refugee working in a mansion in Tehran’s Shahrak-eh Gharb is visited by a ghost from his past as a “corpse thief.” A serial killer pays an undertaker to wash and prepare his victims’ bodies for a proper Muslim burial. At their best, these stories capture the lowest common denominator in the patchwork of humanity that populates the city’s landscape; bring together the high-and-mighty and the down-and-out; begin, in the words of James Ellroy, as a “sure thing” and “inevitably go wrong.”

That’s a very Iranian quality — this presupposition that, no matter how sure the “undertaking,” it’s going to end badly. So is the fatalism that is born of faith in destiny and in the uselessness of fighting it. So, too, is the understanding that morality is often in the mind of the beholder. Noir may be a literary genre to Wikipedia, but to many Iranians, it’s a usual state of mind. It’s born of having lived long enough — say, 2,000-plus years — to know that every star will someday fade and every empire will eventually fall. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. God knows we’re as good as any nation in aspiring to rebuild the old empire. You have to have a capacity for denial, or hope, to last as long as we have. 

Almost, but not quite, like, “Next year in Jerusalem.” 

“Tel Aviv Noir” was edited by Israeli writers Assaf Gavron and Keret, and translated into English by Yardenne Greenspan. They reveal, in Keret’s introduction, “the concealed, scarred face of this city that we love so much.” 

“Don’t get me wrong,” Keret begins, “Tel Aviv is a lovely, safe city. Most of the time, for most of its inhabitants.” Yet despite “its outwardly warm and polite exterior, Tel Aviv has quite a bit to hide.” 

A defense attorney-turned-pimp on the Beach Hotels Strip falls in love with one of his own prostitutes. A novice private detective from Dizengoff Center is called on to find a missing executive in a startup tech firm. A childless couple adopts a dog to love only to discover that it has a tendency to kill humans. 

If you want to know a country, I’ve always thought, read its stories. Not the ones invented for the history books by every mad dictator or megalomaniacal president with a political agenda; there’s too much fiction and too little reality in those. The only truth they divulge is that power corrupts and time degrades. But those other tales, whether new or inherited, spun from everyday existence or uncommon fantasy but that reveal, almost as subtext, a people’s psyche — those are the most accurate renderings of a nation and a time.

By this measure, Tehran and Tel Aviv have a great deal in common. They’re both new old cities: Modern Tehran encompasses and has absorbed the ancient city of Rey; Tel Aviv was founded on the site of the ancient port city of Jaffa. They’re both magnets for people of every race and background. They were once friendly and may be again, someday. Where they differ is in their inhabitants’ existential idea of what the future will look like. 

Early in the conversation at the library, Moody asked Keret and Gavron what, exactly, they thought was so “noir” in their anthology, as nothing especially bad happens to any of the characters. 

“What could possibly be dark about our sunny city,” Keret says in his book’s introduction, “a city nicknamed ‘The Bubble’ due to its complete separation from the violent, conflicted country in which it is situated? Compared to Jerusalem — torn apart, exploding with nationalism, xenophobia, and religious zeal — Tel Aviv has always been an island of sanity and serenity.” 

By contrast, the Tehran of the anthology is a city already in the process of devouring itself and its own: “There is something of both the absolutely spectacular and positively disgraceful about Tehran … a juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty that breaks the heart,” Abdoh writes in his book’s introduction.

There’s an almost universal hopelessness in Tehran, a nearly palpable air of entrapment, a sense that everything that could have been tried has been tried — and failed — that the Tel Aviv stories lack. Then again, we’re nothing, we Iranians, if not willing to soldier on. 

Moody’s last question for Abdoh was whether he is at all optimistic about the future for Iran’s artists. 

“I have hope,” Abdoh said on stage. He followed that up with an email the next day, addressed to Moody, the Israeli writers and me: “Hopefully,” he wrote, “[we can do this again], some day, in Tel Aviv and Tehran.”

Gina Nahai’s latest novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Spiegelman among National Jewish Book Awards winners

Author and illustrator Art Spiegelman and Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld are among the winners of the 2011 National Jewish Book Awards.

The awards, which were announced Wednesday, are given out annually by the Jewish Book Council to honor outstanding books of Jewish interest.

Spiegelman’s new book, “MetaMaus:  A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus,” took the prize in the Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir category. The judges describe it “as brilliant and paradigm-shattering as…Maus… a work of genius.”

Appelfeld won his third National Jewish Book Award in fiction for “Until the Dawn’s Light.” Ned Beauman, the 26-year-old author of “Boxer, Beetle,” won in the Outstanding Debut Fiction category.

Simon Sebag Montefiore was honored with the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award for his epic history, “Jerusalem:  The Biography.”

This year, the Jewish Book Council will recognize the contributions of board member Myra H. Kraft, who died in July. The Myra H. Kraft Memorial Award in Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice, endowed by her husband, Robert Kraft, and her family, has been established for her dedication to the world of Jewish literature. It will be presented to Rabbi David A. Teutsch for his book “A Guide to Jewish Practice: Everyday Living.”

Other winners include Hirsch Goodman in the History category for “The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival;” Julie Chibbaro in the Children’s and Young Adult Literature category for “Deadly,” and Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky in the Women’s Studies category for “The JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth.”

The awards will be presented March 14 in New York. A complete list of the winners can be seen here. The Jewish Book Council has been giving out the National Jewish Book Awards since 1948.

New books chronicle new exodus — Ethiopians’ journey and its aftermath

“Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes,” by Howard M. Lenhoff (Gefen; $24.95).

“The Ethiopian Jews of Israel,” by Len Lyons (Jewish Lights; $34.99).

Roughly 20 years ago, Sudan, whose western Darfur region has been engulfed in genocide for four years, watched another other tragedy unfold — the deaths of thousands of Ethiopian Jews trying to escape to Israel via Operation Moses.

Nearly one-fifth of the fleeing Falashas perished on their journey due to murder, famine, drought and various illnesses. But tens of thousands reached the Holy Land; and the ancient Jewish community (known to themselves as Beta Yisrael), which had an almost invisible presence in Israel until the late 1970s, now numbers more than 100,000 people.

Two new books explore the Ethiopian Jews, one from the perspective of an advocate who helped forge a consensus behind the mass aliyah in the 1970s and 1980s, and the other from an admittedly apolitical jazz aficionado who has dedicated two and a half years of his life to interviewing an array of Ethiopian Jews some 20 years after the exodus.

Former activist Howard Lenhoff, author of “Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes,” might not consider himself one of his book’s eponymous heroes. He never traveled to Ethiopia, never risked his life, never engaged in the kind of swashbuckling derring-do of some of his colleagues.

Yet he played a critical role as president of the American Association of Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) in negotiating with and, in some cases, applying pressure to the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency to change policy on Ethiopian Jews.

Typical of the response of the Jewish establishment in the 1970s was this remark by one American Jewish woman: “These blacks are not Jews.” Nor were the Israelis immune to demeaning characterizations of the Beta Yisrael.

Lenhoff quotes a letter from professor Aryeh Tartakower, another leading activist at the time, that spells out the one-time Israeli attitude toward the Ethiopian Jews: “They were to be considered as ‘Aliens’ like other people of this category, to be admitted as tourists only for a short period of time….

Things went so far, that certain overzealous Israeli officials threatened to deport those Falashas who would be tempted to come over illegally.”

As much as this letter may remind us of the present debate over illegal immigration in the United States, the Israelis ultimately did rescue tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews. Not only that, they provided them with food, shelter and education at absorption centers throughout the country.

How much of that was due to the advocacy of groups like Lenhoff’s is hard to know, but Lenhoff and other AAEJ officials met on many occasions with then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, obtained more than 50,000 signatures on behalf of the Ethiopians, mobilized protests, distributed literature, got the Jewish press to report on the plight of the Falashas and even commanded a few rescues themselves.

Lenhoff first became conscious of race as a young boy growing up in North Adams, Mass. Most of the blacks in his hometown worked as “janitors and garbage people. It sort of bothered me,” he said from his home in Oxford, Miss. “Naturally, I became friends with them.”

He later served on the faculty at Howard University and participated in the civil rights marches in the 1960s, but his interest in the Falashas did not blossom until he visited Israel just after the Yom Kippur War in late 1973 and early 1974. It was then that he read a Jerusalem Post article by famed newsman Louis Rapoport about the Ethiopian Jews who were being denied the right to the Law of Return. Shortly thereafter, Lenhoff, through Rapoport, got in contact with some members of the Beta Yisrael and even provided one, Rahamim, with $1,000, which enabled him to bring his older brother to Israel.

Over the phone, Lenhoff, a former UC Irvine biology professor, said he was concerned about the rescue missions, thinking at the time, “We’re amateurs. What if somebody gets killed. I’ll be responsible.”

He has also been responsible for his daughter, who suffers from the rare genetic disorder known as Williams-Beuren syndrome. Last fall, he came out with “The Strangest Song,” a book about his daughter, who displays rare musical gifts despite her condition.

The same compassion he shows for his daughter comes through in “Black Jews.” He speaks glowingly of some of the Ethiopian men he has met, like Hezi, the first one he encountered, a drill sergeant in the Israeli army, whom he describes as “a towering figure, over 6 feet tall, with a trademark long, black handlebar mustache.”

The book could do without its many subheads, like “Meeting Rahamim — The Professor Hooked.” Likewise, it could do without definitions of such obvious terms as the Mossad and kibbutzim. Any reader will know that the former is the Israeli equivalent of the CIA and the latter the plural form of kibbutz.

Despite these stylistic flaws, the book offers a primer on grass-roots activism and documents a modern-day Exodus, a story that makes for compelling reading on Passover.

Len Lyons, who has previously written books about jazz and computers, first came into contact with the Beta Yisrael through the Boston-Haifa sister city exchange program, when he and his wife hosted two Ethiopians at their home.

Although he said over the phone from Boston that he did not grow up in a politically active home, he could always “relate to the idea of not fitting in completely with my own world.”

In his new book, “The Ethiopian Jews of Israel,” he interviewed the top stratum of Ethiopian Israeli society. Almost no one is unemployed. Not one interviewee seems to live in a broken home, even though there is a high prevalence of divorce among Ethiopian Jews. No one suffers from any of the other pathologies of the community — spousal abuse, depression and alcoholism.

Lyons admits at the outset that he has not presented a random sample or a true cross-section of Beta Yisrael. He tried to interview some inmates in a prison, but they, like other “people on the margins … failing to engage constructively in society, don’t really want to talk about themselves” because of the stigma and shame of being imprisoned, homeless or even unemployed.

Shrine of the Book Reopens Displays

"A senator came to Israel as part of a mission to learn more about the country and the issues," recalled Herta Amir at a ceremony for the Israel Museum’s honorary fellows on June 7. "This senator told me that finally she came to the Shrine of the Book. She stood right behind a little Israeli boy who was trying desperately to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls. She said, ‘If a child in Israel attempts to read a scroll that was written thousands of years ago, then the land belongs to him.’ And so you can see how the past impacts the present and the future."

Herta and Paul Amir, real estate developers in Los Angeles, were the primary donors to the Israel Museum’s project to renovate the Shrine of the Book, closed for a year and reopened June 7, preceding the honorary fellows ceremony. About 300 members of the museum’s International Council attended the invitation-only event, including Alice and Nahum Lainer, Jewish education and arts philanthropists in Los Angeles.

The ceremony began in the courtyard outside the shrine — a white, tear-shaped dome replicating the top of the containers in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. James Snyder, museum director, then led the crowd through the dimly lit cavern-like monument, where ancient documents are housed in rectangular glass containers — including eight of the most complete scrolls discovered, as well as the Aleppo Codex from the 10th century C.E., one of the most famous handwritten Bibles.

After council members had time to view the displays on three levels, King David Peace Drummer’s Yagel Har-El, dressed all in white, stood on the top level and blew a long shofar, then recited the Shehecheyanu blessing for new occasions.

The impetus for the renovation, Snyder said, was that the shrine was just short of four decades old.

"It had suffered substantial wear and tear over the 40 years of its life," he explained. "We wanted to make sure we were presenting the Dead Sea Scrolls in a way that was conservationally appropriate — that provided conditions which would not promote the scrolls’ deterioration…. We replaced or renewed every material, updated all the mechanical systems and light systems and installed new showcases that would allow [the scrolls] to be kept and shown in the most environmentally appropriate way."

According to the Israel Museum, the shrine is considered a masterwork of modern architecture and an international landmark. It was designed by architects Frederick Kiesler and Armand Bartos.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls are among the Israel Museum’s greatest treasures, and the shrine where they are preserved and displayed is also one of the truly distinctive architectural jewels of the last century," Snyder said.

Excavated in the Qumran caves in the Judean Desert in 1947, the scrolls represent a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times, bringing to light an unprecedented trove of biblical literature. The scrolls’ contents fall into three major categories — biblical, apocryphal and sectarian.

The biblical manuscripts comprise 200 copies of books, representing the world’s earliest evidence of biblical texts. The sectarian manuscripts cover a wide variety of literary genres — including biblical commentary, religious-legal writings and liturgical texts. The apocryphal manuscripts comprise works that previously had been known only in translation or had not been known at all.

Scholars have concluded that some of the scrolls were written or copied by an ascetic Jewish sect, identified by most scholars as the Essenes, who existed alongside the Pharisees, Sadducees, early Christians, Samaritans and Zealots. Together, these groups comprised Jewish society in Israel during the late Hellenistic-Roman period, from the rise of the Maccabees through the destruction of the Second Temple (167 B.C.E.-70 C.E.).

Other scrolls were written or copied elsewhere and formed part of the library of the Qumran community. Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a small number in Aramaic and Greek. The majority of the scrolls were written on parchment, with rare examples on papyrus. Although a few scrolls were discovered intact, the majority survive as fragments.

The Shrine of the Book was designed to evoke the experience of discovering the scrolls, as well as to represent the spiritual messages conveyed in the scrolls’ writing. The monument’s restoration, Snyder said, "ensures the preservation of the scrolls for the benefit of generations to come."

Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by
Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press). You can
find her on the Web at

New Writers Lack Roth Shock Value

"Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction From the Edge" edited by Paul Zakrzewski (Perennial, $14.95).

It’s official. American Jews are now the People of the Book Festival.

Not so long ago, in a simpler America, there were Jewish-themed books and there were people who read them. Reading was an intimate enterprise, and authors spent long years of their careers as hard-working nobodies. Nowadays, literature in general — and Jewish literature in particular — have become much more public entertainments. Every season brings new book-world celebrities, book fairs, book clubs, book cruises and all manner of literary happenings.

What does this phenomenon mean for Jewish literature? For one thing, it makes possible the profession of "literary event curator," which is how Paul Zakrzewski, editor of a new anthology called "Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction From the Edge," defines his job as coordinator of book-related programs for the JCC in Manhattan. Zakrzewski assumes similar curatorial duties in "Lost Tribe," assembling a collection of 25 short stories by new-ish authors, hoping to "gather together the provocative fiction of a new breed of Jewish writer — and showcase tomorrow’s great Jewish writers today."

In his introduction, Zakrzewski describes this new breed as the "post-Roth generation," by which he means contemporary writers who are attempting to shock readers as Philip Roth shocked his audience with "Portnoy’s Complaint" back in 1969. It’s silly, though, to designate a generation as "post-Roth" when Roth himself is still very much in the game. In fact, he offered the best writing of his career in the 1990s, when many of these young writers were themselves getting their start, and for all we know he’s now at work on something even better.

It must be said also that, while some of the stories in "Lost Tribe" are undeniably distasteful, sprinkled with the occasional Nazi fetish and a smattering of lackluster violence, none of them can be called shocking in the way that "Portnoy’s Complaint" managed to be. The reasons for this are too complex to examine here, but it’s safe to say that a fictional world’s ability to shock has declined in direct proportion to the multiple shocks administered these days by real-life current events.

What, then, is the "edge" on which this new Jewish fiction is purportedly teetering? Interestingly, it’s the edgier stories here that are the least compelling. "Knitting One," by Suzan Sherman, is the banal assessment of a Jewish girl’s obsession with WASPy men, while Gabriel Brownstein’s "Bachelor Party" is a vague, lazy story about a Jewish young man’s affair with his ex-Nazi mentor’s daughter. Meanwhile, Binnie Kirshenbaum’s "Who Knows Kaddish" takes a smug look at an assimilated daughter who takes up with an older German man while deploring her inability to mourn for her dead mother.

Less edgy but far more diverting are the harmless middlebrow entertainments on offer, including Tova Mirvis’s "A Poland, A Lithuania, a Galicia," about a 19-year-old New Jersey boy’s conversion to ultra-Orthodoxy, and Ben Schrank’s "Consent," in which a perpetual graduate student wrestles with divorce, new love and Jewish mysticism. The truly dreadful rears its head here also, in the form of Simone Zelitch’s kitschy historical melodrama, "Ten Plagues," about which the less said the better.

Book-club enthusiasts may be discouraged to find that many of the better selections here are far from new. Novelists Myla Goldberg, Jonathan Safran Foer and Dara Horn, for instance, offer passages from their popular first novels "Bee Season" (2000), "Everything is Illuminated" (2002), and "In the Image" (2002).

Similarly, Nathan Englander, Aimee Bender and Judy Budnitz weigh in with excellent stories that are by now quite familiar, having appeared in their much-ballyhooed debut collections, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (1999), "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt" (1998), and "Flying Leap" (1997). For his part, Gary Shteyngart delivers "Several Anecdotes About My Wife," a witty variation on the immigration-comedy shtick he dispensed so hilariously in his novel "The Russian Debutante’s Handbook" (2002).

Other remarkable stories here include "Ordinary Pain" by Michael Lowenthal, a small but effective tale about a 13-year-old who invents a Holocaust story about his grandfather in order to gain popularity at school; Rachel Kadish’s "The Argument," in which a memory-haunted old man resents his rabbi’s enviable slide into dementia; and Joan Leegant’s "Seekers in the Holy Land," the lyrical account of a young American in Safed who becomes consumed by a less than benevolent mystical experience.

Talented as these young writers are, however, the only real edge that this Jewish fiction exhibits is a marketing edge. "Lost Tribe" is a volume whose real reasons for existing are to endorse the careers of its editor and contributors, and to join the noisy pageant of book festivals, readings and other promotions. The anthology itself doesn’t answer many questions about the future of Jewish literature. The more relevant question for these "post-Roth" aspirants is this: will they, 40 years down the line, be able to say they fulfilled their early promise with a career as consistently dazzling as that of Philip Roth?

True Tales From the Holocaust and After

"Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories: True Tales From the Holocaust and Life After" by Henryk Grynberg. Translated from Polish by Alicia Nitecki. Edited by Theodosia Robertson. (Penguin Books, 2002).

Until recently, the word Drohobycz (pronounced "Dro-ho-bit-ch") sounded to most American readers like an exotic Eastern European tongue twister.

Then, three years ago, the name of this Ukrainian town appeared in the world press when representatives of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial controversially claimed a set of murals painted by Bruno Schulz, a lifelong resident of Drohobycz who was gunned down by the Gestapo there in 1942, and is now considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

It is Bruno Schulz’s haunting self-portrait that gazes at us from the cover of Henryk Grynberg’s powerful book, "Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories," and it is Schulz and his fellow residents of the eastern borderlands of prewar Poland who inspire Grynberg’s tales, which have been awarded the 2002 Koret Jewish Book Award for Fiction.

A child survivor of the Holocaust and longtime resident of the United States, Grynberg has dealt directly or indirectly with the Holocaust in 26 books of prose, poetry, essays and drama, all written in his native Polish.

He considers the Holocaust singularly important as a lesson, a warning and a turning point in the history of our civilization, and frequently calls himself a guardian of the graves and the writer of the dead.

The documentary-like stories of "Drohobycz, Drohobycz" are set in almost a dozen countries. His narrators are survivors of ghettos, labor and death camps, as well as wartime deportations to the Soviet Union.

The narrators recall hundreds of names, places and local historical events; in the face of destruction, these details of the past acquire a new poignancy, and Grynberg’s allusions underline the wide geographical scope of the Shoah.

Letting others speak is Grynberg’s conscious strategy — he takes his inspiration from real testimonies but crafts them with fictional techniques. We can only guess that the names mentioned in the dedications preceding each tale — "Halina M." or "Janina" or "Ben, Zoila, Michal and Basia" — belong to the real-life victims on whose lives the fictions are based.

Grynberg dutifully catalogs these survivors’ responses to the horrors they have experienced and the challenges of survival. In some cases, the survivors, many of whom like Grynberg, himself, are children of the Holocaust, view the world from a child’s perspective.

After the war, the narrator of "A Hungarian Sketch" is surprised to see mothers with children strolling in the street; having miraculously escaped the clutches of Mengele, she imagined there can be no more mothers and children in the world.

Others experience permanent alienation: "To the Americans I was a foreigner," says the narrator of "A Pact With God." "To the Poles, a hidden Jew. Who was I to the Jews?" The narrator of "A Family Sketch" remarks, "I married twice and didn’t try after that. I didn’t want to have children. I’d rather be by myself." Another woman narrator argues survivors are like painters unrecognized during their lifetimes.

Although Grynberg is very careful to give his narrators their own voices, his authorial touch is felt in the ironic distance, sense of absurdity and even humor of these tales. A former actor, Grynberg has said that he has been encouraged by his editors to exploit his talent for comedy in his fiction. Though only so much humor is appropriate in stories as grim and often heartbreaking as these, Grynberg’s ironic sensibility makes his tale-testimonies easier to read, as their tragedy is tempered for the reader who otherwise might be overwhelmed with the scope of suffering and horror he describes.

Twenty years ago, Philip Roth introduced Schulz to the American audience in the series "Writers From the Other Europe." Since then, Schulz’s life and work have inspired novels by Cynthia Ozick and David Grossman, and a powerful biography by Jerzy Ficowski, recently translated into English. Schulz’s famous example illustrates how important it is that new stories of tragedy and survival continue to be unearthed from the wartime and post-war experiences of Polish Jews. In "Drohobycz, Drohobycz," Grynberg carries on this work, using fiction to tell "True Tales From the Holocaust and Life After" and to create a compelling portrait of the effect two totalitarian systems — Nazism and Stalinist communism — had on the lives of millions. By sharing his own story and those of more than a dozen survivors, Grynberg helps these millions become less anonymous.

Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska is a professor of American and comparative literature
and head of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin,
Poland, and the co-editor of “Contemporary Jewish Writing in Poland: An Anthology.” This review originally
appeared on the recently redesigned, the online Jewish book community produced by Jewish Family & Life.