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Wartime Lies: A Novel (1991)

by Louis Begley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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445540,271 (3.84)17
As the Nazi war machine smashes into Poland, a young Jewish boy living near Warsaw is forced to flee with his aunt, Tania, and the two enter into a secret life of forged papers, false identities, and constant movement. Reprint. NYT.



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Showing 5 of 5
This short novel is from 1991, and relates the harrowing survival of a young boy and his aunt in and around wartime Warsaw. Maciek, the boy, is motherless and loses his father to his higher duties as Polish fighter, thus turning custodianship over to live-in Aunt Tania. They are jewish, but not obviously so, and acquire faked, "Aryan papers" as they were known. What follows is a continuum of dodge and deceit, as they change apartments and are helped by Jew and gentile alike.

Permanent safe haven seems to arrive in German officer Reinhard, who takes Tania as lover and arranges for safe lodging. Maciek's grandparents are sequestered as well, separated from he and Tania to help bolster the invented family histories that might have to be put forth. Tragedy strikes, however, and their thin edge of survival resumes. As deportations of Jews increase, even as news of German collapse filters in, desperate measures ensue, such as Maciek's attending catechism class to forestall suspicion. As well, they must deal with potential blackmailers in a quest for food and invisibility.

Tania takes some brazen steps to stay alive, as they avoid drunken, trigger happy Germans and Ukrainian thugs in the ruins of Warsaw itself. A well-paced, absorbing, sad, and yet inspiring novel. The author's own experience passing as a catholic Pole during the war informs the story, but otherwise doesn't emulate it. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Feb 2, 2018 |
the man with sad eyes believes he has been changed inside for ever like a beaten dog'
By sally tarbox on 15 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
Short and intensely moving story of a Jewish child's experiences in World War 2 Poland. The first chapter describes a pleasant middle-class upbringing but ends 'less than one year later came September 1939 and it was all over'.
From then on, the family is split up with the narrator travelling through Poland with his resourceful aunt, using false identity papers. Suspicious of everyone, careful of their every move, they pass themselves off as Catholic Poles and come close to losing their lives on a number of occasions.
Yet even in the last chapter when the war is over, the lies must be kept up. Pogroms continue in liberated Poland and as Begley concludes:
'And where is Maciek now? He became an embarrassment and slowly died. A man who bears one of the names Maciek used has replaced him. Is there much of Maciek in that man? No: Maciek was a child and our man has no childhood that he can bear to remember; he has had to invent one.' ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
This partly autobiographical novel tells the story of a young Jewish boy Maciek who together with his Aunt Tania pose as Catholic Poles during WW II to survive the Holocaust. The narrator is looking back on these childhood experiences as an old man, and remembers how much of his heritage and identity had to be denied in order to survive. "Our man has no childhood he can bear to remember." It was only lies that enabled him to survive, constantly moving from place to place, maintaining a distance from others, as one by one other members of his family vanish or die.

All of this is narrated in a completely matter of fact way, with a complete absence of judgment, which makes it all quite chilling. Clearly, to survive physically, the psyche is irreparably damage.

"She and I had to get used to the idea we were quite alone. Tania and Maciek against the world. This was not an easy lesson to learn but probably the world would beat it into our heads." ( )
  arubabookwoman | Sep 30, 2015 |
This is an extraordinary book about the human condition. It deals with the holocaust obliquely, through the filter of memory, childhood and absence. It brings the thing home, through the window, in a single amazing paragraph of great impact. The child of the story is not an innocent but neither is he completely aware. The complete absence of judgement from the narrative only emphasizes the fragility of justice itself, in addition to the fragility of the central characters. The manner in which the narrative can shift from a scene of partial normality to one of shocking cruelty emphasizes the danger of the situation. It is a powerful work that reconstitutes the way one sees things. ( )
  freelancer_frank | Mar 8, 2013 |
A young Jewish boy and his aunt survive WWII and the post-war pogroms in Poland. Maciek's father is a doctor who has quit Poland with the Russian army, leaving his son in the charge of his aunt Tania. The pair survive the war and the pogroms that follow by assuming the identities of Catholic Poles. They are constantly at risk of blackmail and betrayal.

Events are seen through Maciek's eyes. He sees the Jews rounded up and loaded on trains, watches the burning of the Warsaw ghetto and lives through the Warsaw uprising. He relates the terrible things he sees without emotion or judgement. ( )
  pamelad | Mar 16, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louis Begleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coleman, RogerCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Für meine Mutter
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Take a man with a nice face and sad eyes, fifty or more winters on his back, living a moderately pleasant life in a tranquil country.
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As the Nazi war machine smashes into Poland, a young Jewish boy living near Warsaw is forced to flee with his aunt, Tania, and the two enter into a secret life of forged papers, false identities, and constant movement. Reprint. NYT.

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