Wednesday, November 4, 2009

REVIEW: The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin

The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin. Published 2009 by Diamond River Books. Fiction.

The Polski Affair is historical fiction based on a real occurrence during World War II Poland, when the Nazis used the Warsaw Hotel Polski as a way-station for Jews who were told that they could buy fake passports and papers that would allow them to emigrate to South America. First-time author Gildin tracks what's known to have happened to many of the Jews who attempted this- they were sent first to France and then back to the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Some were also sent to the Pawiak prison camp or Auschwitz for execution, and a very few with Palestinian papers survived.

The Polski Affair is the story of one of these survivors, a woman now called Anna Adler who lives in Israel with her common-law husband Itzik, now called Chaim, also a Polski survivor. The novel tells the story of how she lost her husband and children, how she came to the hotel, how she secured her and Itzik's survival via a relationship with a Nazi commander and what became of her family after the war. That's a lot of ground to cover, and Gildin does it in a clipped, plot-centric style that leaves very little room for emotion or character-building. As she's preparing to return to Europe to testify against the Nazi during his war crimes trial, she says
The next day I called the number on the American captain's paperwork, told the operator who I was, why I was calling and with whom I would be traveling. An officer got on the line and I was given instructions when to arrive, who would pick us up at the airport, where we would be staying, and who would pick us up for my appearance in court. The deed was done. Googy [her nickname for the Nazi] was back in my life
Boom. Just like that.

I found this matter-of-fact style a little out of sync with the events described- a little too rational and cold, and not emotional enough. Anna tells us about what happens but Gildin doesn't help us feel the weight of it. The book was just okay for me; not bad, but not particularly good, either. Like Sarah's Key and its description of the VĂ©lodrome d'Hiver roundup, it illuminates a little-known corner of Holocaust lore; unlike Sarah's Key, it lacks a heroine with whom the reader can really connect on an emotional level. A good choice for those with a profound interest in Holocaust literature, the average reader can probably pass on this one.

I encourage you to read Lorri's review at her blog, Jew Wishes.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.