Immigrant Stories: The Train to Warsaw by Gwen Edelman

9780802122445_p0_v3_s192x300Lately, I’m sure some of you have noticed I’ve been playing around with something I call “unofficial sequels.” These are books that even though they were written by completely different authors the books seem to take off right where one book ends. Heck, I’ve even stretched this little obsession of mine to include unofficial trilogies. But enough digression. On to the matter at hand. Now I think I might have found an unofficial prequel.

Not long ago, while making my way through the assorted offerings on the New Books shelf at my public library I came across a copy of Gwen Edelman’s 2014 novel The Train to Warsaw. Her novel takes place 40 years after the end of WWII, which roughly makes it sometime in the 80s. If I’m right and that’s the case, that would make it 10 years before Peter Matthiessen’s In Paradise, which is another novel set in Poland. Interestingly enough, both novels deal with characters looking back on, and dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust. Therefore, you can see how why I’d consider The Train to Warsaw a kind of unofficial prequel to In Paradise.

Edelman’s novel tells the story of Jascha and Lilka, a presumably married couple from London, who years before were young lovers in the Warsaw Ghetto. After both miraculously survived the Holocaust, years later and quite by luck are reunited in London. Jascha has become a world-famous writer and he’s been invited by the Polish government to return to the city of his birth to conduct a public reading from his works. So the two of them return to Warsaw and in doing so find themselves confronting ghosts from the past, as well searching for city that has long since vanished.

Structurally speaking, it’s kind of an odd novel. Instead of discrete chapters, the entire novel is one long series of paragraphs. Even though it’s set in near contemporary Warsaw, throughout much of the book the two characters are constantly reminiscing about life during the Nazi occupation of Poland, especially in the Warsaw Ghetto. It’s one of those novels I didn’t like at first, but the more I read it the more I warmed up to it.

After reading nonfiction works like Bloodlands, Iron Curtain and Savage Continent, I’m glad I found a piece of fiction that helps provide another perspective on World War II and the Holocaust. Reading The Train to Warsaw has stimulated my interest in reading Mila 18so don’t be surprised if you see that classic novel talked about on this blog. If that’s the case, with three Holocaust-related novels featured here we might end up with yet another unofficial trilogy on my hands.

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Filed under Eastern Europe/Balkans, Europe, Fiction, History, Judaica

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