cover image The Postcard

The Postcard

Anne Berest, trans. from the French by Tina Kover. Europa, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-60945-838-6

In Berest’s phenomenal English-language debut novel (after the nonfiction work How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are), the author pieces together stories of her ancestors who were lost at Auschwitz. In 2003, when Anne is 24, her mother, Lélia, receives a cryptic postcard containing only the names of four relatives, all of whom died in the Holocaust. The postcard remains an enigma until 10 years later, when Anne, now pregnant and visiting her parents’ house, decides she’s ready to learn more about her roots. In flashbacks sparked by Lélia’s stories, Berest builds a touching account of her great-grandparents Emma and Ephraïm Rabinovitz, whose names were on the postcard along with two of their children, and who had fled from four countries before settling in a Paris suburb in 1929. After France is invaded, Ephraïm’s business is seized by the government along with his cookware patents, and the family is subjected to curfews and restrictions. Emma and Ephraïm are separated from two of their children, and the four are eventually taken to Auschwitz. With bracing prose, smoothly translated by Kover, Berest takes an unflinching look at antisemitism past and present (“And, I realized now, I was the same age as my mother and grandmother were when they were hit with the insults, the stones.... The pattern was undeniable”). The more Anne learns of her family, the more powerful her story of reclaiming her ancestry becomes. This is brilliant. (May)