Bring Us the Old People

Marisa Kantor Stark, Author, Marisa Kantor Stark, Author
Marisa Kantor Stark, Author, Marisa Kantor Stark, Author Coffee House Press $22.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-56689-074-8
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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Twenty-five-year-old first-time author Stark uncannily evokes the resilient voice of her 92-year-old narrator, strong, stubborn, endearing Maime Lieber Schata, a Holocaust survivor widowed and wrestling alone with the nightmare of her past in a Newark, N.J., nursing home. When the Nazis invaded her Polish village and issued the order, ""Bring us the old people,"" she and her husband, Saul, complied, knowing that they themselves would be shot if they refused. As a result, both Maime's and Saul's parents were deported to Auschwitz while the childless couple survived by hiding for three years in the cellar of a sympathetic Polish farmer. The narrative risk Stark runs--and doesn't entirely overcome--is the immersion of her nonagenarian protagonist in the trivia of everyday life. Also, because Maime doesn't really face her guilty memories until the novel is nearly over, the story has an awkward dramatic shape. Yet these quotidian details anchor the story and make the Polish village as familiar as Maime's Newark apartment and the old people's home. And Maime's flashes of insight into the power of love, the certainty of death, the challenges of aging and the capacity of human beings for moral choice enliven her matter-of-fact, yet eloquent meditation (given added verisimilitude through Old World and Yiddish inflections and nongrammatical vernacular). Finally, Stark's lonely heroine becomes an unforgettable figure as she sums up a life endured with stoic dignity. (Aug.)
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