Jacob the Liar

Jurek Becker, Author, Leila Vennewitz, Translator
Jurek Becker, Author, Leila Vennewitz, Translator Arcade Publishing $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-55970-315-4
Reviewed on: 02/05/1996
Release date: 02/01/1996
Twenty-seven years after its initial German publication, this celebrated--and out-of-print--novel of life and death in a Nazi-occupied Jewish ghetto during WW II appears here in the translation authorized by the author, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. In the midst of a morally inverted universe where the monstrously wicked has become utterly commonplace, Jacob Heym, a yellow star on his chest, gives hope to his fellow ghetto occupants by telling them he has clandestinely overheard a radio report that Russian troops are advancing and will soon liberate the ghetto. One life-sustaining lie leads to another as the former eatery owner, who now does back-breaking forced labor in a freight yard, circulates invented radio news of German defeats and Allied progress. Jacob's stories halt a stream of suicides, even though savage beatings, shootings, executions, starvation and deportations to concentration camps continue unabated. In a moving, almost hallucinatory, narrative that gives voice to a grief beyond words, Becker shows us ordinary people struggling to maintain their humanity and dignity. Vennewitz's translation conveys the restraint and emotional power of a story that unfolds with the impact of a moral parable or a folk legend. (Feb.)
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