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Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker
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Jacob the Liar

by Jurek Becker

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English (6)  German (3)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker
★★★★
Jacob the Liar is the story of life in a Nazi-occupied Jewish ghetto. Protagonist Jacob Heym is sent to the military office and overhears a radio broadcast about a nearby Russian victory. He finds himself in a predicament when he decides to share the good news but lies to cover up where he heard the news by claiming he owns a radio. The news instills hope and curbs the stream of suicides in the ghetto. The subsequent plot centers around Jacob’s struggles to maintain the lie about his radio in an effort to maintain a glimmer of hope in the lives of those surrounding him.

This is a powerful story. The emotional restraint (e.g., the matter of fact way of describing beatings, daily hardships, and death) of the narrator makes the story hit you that much harder.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS:
Hope is a dangerous thing in this story. On the one hand Jacob’s stories give his community a sense of purpose and meaning to continue fighting for survival, yet on the other hand the reader is told up front that the conclusion likely will not be one that deserves hope. What happens to Kowalski when he learns the truth is gut wrenching.
END OF POSSIBLE SPOILERS

I ended up really liking this book despite thinking about halfway through that it was just “okay.” It grew on me throughout the book. It was heartbreaking at times, and uplifting at other times. There are many good WWII books but I found it interesting that the book focused on life in the ghetto rather than life in concentration camps – making the book unique in its own way. I also liked the way the book makes you feel conflicted about ethics of Jacob’s behavior. I found myself thinking a lot about whether the instillation of hope is always a good thing.
( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker is a book you might have heard of, probably because of the movie version starring Robin Williams [it's actually the second adaptation, the first was a German movie in the 70s].

The plot is quickly summarised: A ghetto in Poland during World War II (probably meant to be Lodz), near the end of the war. Jakob is one of the inabitants. One evening, he hears in a radio transmission that the Russians are around 500 km from their ghetto. He passes on the news, but has to pretend that he secretely owns a radio to be believed. As these things usually do, they get out of hand and Jakob has to start to lie and make up news so the people won’t lose hope.

I didn’t like the writing very much. I found Becker’s style tiring and tedious.
And I didn’t really like Jakob, although he definitely had good sides. But mostly, he was grumpy, moody and had a bad temper.

Unfortunately, this lessened the impact of this otherwise very powerful story. I somehow couldn’t access Jakob and both endings (yes, there are two) left me unsatisfied. [The Hollywood ending (yeah, they created a third one) would be the happiest version, but also the one most out of tune with the rest of the story. (Go figure.)]

So, summarising: good story badly told. ( )
  kalafudra | May 3, 2010 |
Jacob the Liar takes place in a Jewish ghetto in WWII Germany, when simple everyman Jacob Heym accidentally overhears a war report and leads his community to believe he has more insider knowledge than he really does. It becomes taxing and frustrating for him, being pestered for news continually since nobody else is allowed access to radio, newspaper, or any other form of news - but he has to sustain this lie and create hopeful reports that very very soon the Jews will be delivered out of their situation by approaching Russian troops.

It is a simple story of sustaining unsubstantiated hope in a very bad time, as goodhearted Jacob does the best he can "to make use of the very last possibility that keeps them from just lying down and dying - with words, do you understand? I try to do that with words! Because that's all I have." ( )
1 vote the_awesome_opossum | Dec 5, 2009 |
Jakob hears a scrap of news from outside the world of the ghetto and manages to live to tell about it. When no one believes him, he invents a ficticious radio to authenticate his report. This one lie grows as the ghetto residents demand more news, and Jakob falls into the role of inventing hope for the doomed population. This was an excellent book. I really liked the story-telling. I'm not a big reader of Holocaust books, but I felt like this one really conveyed the ... everyday-ness, the triviality of the horrors of the ghetto- the way that it becomes understood both the horrors occurring and their inevitability, and the worn-down quality that produces. Without, also, being completely depressing. An extremely well-written book, recommended if you're interested in that kind of thing, or just if you like good literary fiction. ( )
  Foxen | May 14, 2009 |
There are two English translations of Jacob the Liar. The first in 1975 by Melvin Kornfeld, and an "authorized" translation in 1996 by Leila Vennewitz, in conjunction with the author. I read the 1975 translation. I normally don't like to bestow "favorite" status on books since it's difficult to judge and compare such widely different works of art, but sometimes something just stays in my heart in a personal way that transcends, so I suppose this is one of my favorite books. It's a fable, a parable. It's funny, sweet and rings true in a way no other holocaust book I have read. The movie(s) don't do it justice, plot overlays that skip over the books inner life. Highly recommended.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | Dec 4, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jurek Beckerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Devena, MarioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kraft, ThomasAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leeuwen, Evelien vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michels, HermannCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petroni, GuglielmoContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vennewitz, LeilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Ich höre schon alle sagen, ein Baum, was ist das schon....
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452281709, Paperback)

This fable of a Jewish ghetto during World War II is one of the great literary masterworks of the Holocaust. Published in Germany in 1969, it is only now appearing in an authorized English translation. Concerning a former cafe owner who fabricates the story of the Russian army's inexorable advance on the ghetto, and the liberation that will follow their arrival, the tale has the simple power of myths or dreams. A comic tale of unimaginable tragedy, the novel brings vividly to life the doomed inhabitants of the ghetto: Schmidt, the obtuse assimilationist; the child, Lina, who hunts for Jacob's imaginary radio; Frankfurte,r the formerly obese burgher. And Jacob himself, a storyteller whose inventions become like bread to the others, who finds himself trapped in his growing mesh of lies until he is driven to tell the truth. At the end there are two final passages: one in which the Russians arrive to save the ghetto; and one in which they don't. Who is to distinguish between fact and myth?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a Jewish ghetto during World War II, a man manages to raise flagging spirits by circulating rumors of Allied victories and that the ghetto will soon be liberated by the Red Army. At this news, many people who are thinking of suicide decide to live.… (more)

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