Friday, August 11

King of the Jews

I just finished King of the Jews by Leslie Epstein (Theo pere). There cover of my copy is littered with praise for the book, most of it calling the novel the only important work of Holocaust fiction to that point. It was published in the early 80's. It was well-written but didn't blow me away; however, it's the best look inside the life of Jews during the Holocaust that I've encountered, as opposed to their deaths (Schindler's List) or their individual fights for survival (The Pianist), even if the fight to survive obviously permeated the book. The surprising aspect of the book is its optimism: the main character, I.C. Trumpelman, refuses to fight the Germans for fear of getting his whole ghetto deported to a death camp, and constantly preaches to his skeptical neighbors that working with the occupiers is better for the Jews in the long run. As President of the local Judenrat, or Jewish Council, in the Balut ghetto, Trumpelman radiates a confidence that doesn't extend to some of the Balut's younger residents, who rebel against him and the Germans; somehow, he holds the Balut together longer than any of the other Polish ghettos. The general optimism was a fresh take, and I think was the reason the book is well-regarded - I enjoyed it for that reason, but couldn't escape the fact that it was obviously certainly fantasy, even if I wished it wasn't.

I give it three sad things out of five.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I was going to make a bemused comment on the praise "calling the novel the only important work of Holocaust fiction to that point." but then I remembered sadly that none fo the Holocaust books I've read have been fiction.