The Game of Opposites

Nor­man Lebrecht
  • Review
By – October 27, 2011
Elie Wiesel has always insist­ed that a nov­el about the Holo­caust is not a nov­el, or, if it is a nov­el, it is not about the Holo­caust. Nor­man Lebrecht, win­ner of the 2003 Whit­bread First Nov­el Award, proves Wiesel wrong with The Game of Oppo­sites. In an unnamed coun­try at the end of a unnum­bered world war, inmate Paul Mali­nows­ki leaves a labor camp, which his cap­tors have just fled in the face of approach­ing Amer­i­can lib­er­a­tors. Paul’s task is to deter­mine whether it is safe for his fel­low incar­cer­ates to flee, too. But his with­er­ing jour­ney ends with his col­lapse in a near­by vil­lage whose res­i­dents had for years watched stone­faced as some of their neigh­bors were select­ed for evic­tion and death. Alice Hof­man, a young woman, takes Paul in and nurs­es him back to health, by which time the war is over. His home and fam­i­ly destroyed, Paul decides to stay where he is, mar­ries Alice, has a fam­i­ly, and even­tu­al­ly becomes the may­or of the vil­lage. In Lebrecht’s hands all of this is per­fect­ly cred­i­ble to the read­er. Paul, although adjust­ing to his new­found hap­pi­ness, is haunt­ed by guilt over the inmates he left behind. And sur­round­ed by peo­ple who ignored the evil in their midst, he is forced, in this poignant, moral­ly chal­leng­ing, and beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten nov­el, to make wrench­ing choic­es between vengeance and forgiveness.
Ger­ald Sorin is Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can and Jew­ish Stud­ies at the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, New Paltz. His most recent book, Irv­ing Howe: A Life of Pas­sion­ate Dis­sent,” won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award in His­to­ry. He is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a biog­ra­phy of Howard Fast.

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