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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Remembrance Part 1: A Time of War

I decided to read Remembrance: A Time of War by A. K. Stauber for review because it deals with a Jewish woman in Poland during WWII who joins the Resistance which is a uncommon story.   I do know of male Jews who were in the Resistance in real life, but I have never heard of actual Jewish women who were able to join a Resistance cell.  I purchased this book on Amazon and reviewed it for The Bookplex.



The main strength of this book is the intense narrative focused on the horrific experiences of the Jewish female protagonist in Poland during World War II. For the most part, Anna is very credible.  She is strong yet vulnerable, though events harden her over time. 

I have no doubt that Stauber studied the history of the Holocaust, yet this book betrays her lack of knowledge of the Hasidic Jewish community.  I believe that it was an error of judgment to call any of these characters Hasidic.  They should have been urban Jews from Warsaw or Krakow who were somewhat assimilated.  Genuinely Hasidic characters would have had difficulties with the events of this storyline that weren’t even mentioned once in the novel.  The kosher diet of all Orthodox Jews is one prominent example.   Hasidic characters would have given some thought to the lack of availability of kosher food in their circumstances, and they would have made a decision about it. 

 The inaccuracies in the portrayal of these characters begin with their names which should be either Hebrew or Yiddish.  A more minor nomenclature error is that the characters refer to a Hasidic man’s strands of ringlets as “payot”.  That is Sephardic Hebrew.  These characters were Ashkenazic Jews who would have spoken Ashkenazic Hebrew.  The ringlet strands would have been “payas”. This may seem inconsequential, but any reader who is familiar with the cultural context would see that mistake as a reminder of the author’s shortcomings in this area.

 More importantly, the background of Pawel is riddled with contradictions.  The explanation for these contradictions is unworkable.  A Hasidic family would never have united in marriage with a family without the proper religious background.  Arranged marriages have always been seen as a commitment between families rather than individuals.  A Hasidic family would only consider someone from a similar type of family.  This would be the most important criterion for a matchmaker in that community.  It just wouldn’t have happened.  

It also isn't explained how Pawel knew how to use a gun.  It isn't something that someone from a Hasidic background would have learned.  Who taught him?  Under what circumstances did he learn?
On the other hand, the cover of Remembrance: A Time of War is worthy of praise.  It has an impact. The sky is dominated by the Star of David surrounded by flames and dripping blood.  I would call it a powerful artistic metaphor. The cover isn’t such an asset in the black and white version that appears on my Kindle. Without the colors it doesn’t make so strong a statement.  I would also like to point out that the author’s name is greyed out and nearly disappears in that version. 

 Unfortunately, the favorable impression made by the cover in full color is ruined by the reader’s first encounter with the text which starts with a misspelling. This is an error that should have been caught and fixed. I can’t even type that misspelling in Word without seeing it underlined in red.  It’s the only misspelling in the entire book, but a reader who sees “Prolouge” would have no way of knowing that.   Much later in the book Polish appears un-capitalized twice, but these slipups are much less noticeable.  Typographical errors that appear in the beginning of a book have a negative influence on readers.  They may even decide to stop reading it.

The Hasidic cultural background of certain characters will presumably recede and become less important in future volumes, but I experienced the inconsistent presentation of this background as a significant flaw in this book.   A consultant who is educated in all the rich complexities of Hasidic Jewish life would have been helpful.


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