cover image We Must Not Think of Ourselves

We Must Not Think of Ourselves

Lauren Grodstein. Algonquin, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64375-234-1

Grodstein (Our Short History) draws on archival records for an eloquent story of the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. Adam Paskow, a childless widower, teaches English to a group of children in the ghetto, where he lives in a cramped apartment with two other families, having been forced there from the spacious flat he once shared with his wife in the city’s Mokotow district. Because of his language skills, he’s tasked by Emanuel Ringelblum, a historical figure who organized relief agencies for Jews during the war, with interviewing their fellow residents and compiling an archive of their experiences. The novel is formed mainly from these interviews along with Paskow’s observations about how life has changed after the German occupation. His interview subjects include 11-year-old Fillip Lescovec, who dreams of becoming a construction worker, and 48-year-old Emil Wiskoff, who can trace his family back to its Vilna roots in 1648. There’s not much of a plot, though Grodstein makes her persecuted characters achingly human, such as when Paskow has a secret, life-affirming affair with one of the married women who shares his apartment. The story doesn’t shy away from the period’s horror, however; there are wrenching scenes of Nazis beating and killing men, women, and children on the streets. This will stay with readers. (Nov.)