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.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This is the first I have heard of this book. Sorry it was just okay it seems.

bermudaonion said...

It's too bad the book's not better because that's a story that sounds fascinating.

Bryan R. Terry said...

When I first saw the title I thought it said The Polanski Affair ... which would have been a MUCH different book to be sure.

Marie Cloutier said...

Brian- yeah. That's a book I probably wouldn't read :-)

Anonymous said...

It looks interesting though. I might give it a try anyway. Great review.

Zibilee said...

I had not heard of this book either. Sorry to hear it wasn't a great read, I think I'll thank on it. Thanks for the insightful review.

S. Krishna said...

I might pass on this one, but thanks so much for the review!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Marie.

Your review is a good one! I actually agree, now that it has been a while, since I reviewed the book.

It is an okay book...details are there, but there is something lacking. It could be more intriguing, for sure.

Anna said...

Thanks for the honest assessment. It does sound like an interesting story, though. I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Wendy said...

I didn't finish this one - like you, I felt unconnected to the characters...and I was also bothered by the typos. Sounds like you liked it a bit better than I did.