cover image Vera Gran: The Accused

Vera Gran: The Accused

Agata Tuszynska, trans. from the French by Charles Ruas. Knopf, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-26912-6

The fraught politics of collaboration and guilt are dissected in this darkly absorbing biography of an icon of the Warsaw Ghetto. Poet and biographer Tuszynska profiles Vera Gran, a Polish-Jewish torch singer who starred at the ghetto’s Cafe Sztuka and was dogged by postwar allegations that she collaborated with the Gestapo. (Gran’s feud with her accompanist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who wrote her out of his celebrated Holocaust memoir, The Pianist, surfaces in her dubious counteraccusations that Szpilman was himself a brutal collaborationist policeman.) Tuszynska’s shrewd examination of the evidence largely absolves Gran, but her account is really a probing, atmospheric study of the ghetto’s moral ambiguities; like many, to survive—and possibly to protect others—Gran made compromises with the powerful, free-spending collaborationist figures who kept afloat the semiluxurious nightclub demimonde that sheltered her from the ghetto’s agony. She’s hardly a saint in Tuszynska’s account; the author’s sharply etched portrait of her in old age depicts a narcissistic diva with a demented persecution complex and her own load of guilt for abandoning her family in the early days of the ghetto. In Charles Ruas’s skillful translation, Tuszynska’s prose conveys Gran’s story in brisk, evocative montage while, appropriately, leaving open enigmatic gaps. She finds no bright line of truth—just subtle shades of gray that are revealing of a nightmarish time. 30 photos. Agent: Carol Mann, the Carol Mann Agency. (Feb. 27)