I'm still obsessed with historical fiction, and will always make a beeline to any fictional writing based in the 1930's and 40's. World War Two still holds a fascination for me that I can't explain. I go for non-fiction too, but fiction will always be my main love. There is something about the fact that it COULD be real, because the written story will be based on events that actually happened at some point in time. It helps me imagine myself in the feet of the characters, living the lives that they did, thinking that maybe they did really exist, or someone like them was alive at the same time in the same area. All that to explain that my purchase of Ghita Schwarz' Displaced Persons was yet another random buy that I happened to come across when browsing the through the new book selection at St Mark's Bookstore. WW2 + Europe + survivors? It was a no-brainer, I grabbed it and immediately started reading it.
The story starts in 1945, just after the war and follows a small group of "displaced persons", the name given to concentration camp survivors and general survivors of the Nazi murdering machine, as they randomly find each other and fight to rebuild their lives as best as they can. The main character through the book is Pavel Mandl, and the narration follows him through his life, directly post-war around the Belsen camp and then post-immigration to the US with his new family and friends. The story sometimes skips to other characters, for example Fela, Pavel's wife; Chaim, the young boy who had survived the Holocaust by pure wit and intelligence and attached himself to Fela and Pavel, and Sima, Chaim's wife. You can find a full synopsis of the novel HERE.
I like that this book was written about survivors picking up the pieces and creating new lives for themselves, after losing everything, instead of being about the actual survival during the war. The narrative is written in such a way that you can hear the Yiddish, Polish and Russian inflections in the characters' voices, but it's so well done, that you don't even notice it outright, it just seems natural. The other point that I really liked about this book is that Schwarz focuses on the characters as normal people who have gone through traumatic experiences and continue to be normal people looking to survive and move on with their lives. The fact that they are survivors does not make them into super humans, they are just normal human beings with flaws and hopes and dreams, trying to make the most of what they have, while still trying to come to terms with the tragedies they have experienced.
By the end of the novel you feel as if you have known the characters all of your life and you don't want to leave them. I applaud Schwarz for writing such an emotional and real novel. If I am not mistaken this is her fictional debut so I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! I also LOVE the fact that she added a couple of pages to the end of the novel with titles of books about the subject, as well as a small synopsis for each book. For someone like me who continues to look for WW2 fiction, this is the best thing that an author can do!
Gita Schwarz official website