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.