The Kamin­sky Cure

Christo­pher New
  • Review
By – June 20, 2016

I don’t know it yet, but I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the name­less, omni­scient nar­ra­tor of The Kamin­sky Cure tells us in the first para­graph of the nov­el. The Kamin­sky Cure fol­lows the sto­ries of a Protes­tant min­is­ter, his con­vert­ed, for­mer­ly Jew­ish wife, and their half-Jew­ish chil­dren in a small town in Aus­tria dur­ing World War II. The nar­ra­tor is four years old when Aus­tria is invad­ed, and he won­ders why his par­ents aren’t join­ing in the gen­er­al jubi­la­tion.” Soon, how­ev­er, he is forced to understand.

The min­is­ter, Willibald, and his wife, Gabi, have a ter­ri­ble rela­tion­ship — one that con­sists of reg­u­lar scream­ing and shout­ing, the throw­ing of dish­es and pic­tures, and some­times phys­i­cal vio­lence. These con­tretemps do noth­ing to help the chil­dren adjust, nor do the gall blad­der attacks from which Gabi suf­fers after these scrim­mages. The chil­dren are soon banned from the local school and must trav­el four hours a day to reach a school that will accept them, not with­out ostracism and mockery.

Each child is dif­fer­ent: the eldest, Ilse is an oth­er­world­ly girl who prays con­stant­ly to have the taint of Judaism removed from her; Mar­tin, the sec­ond child, is an avid non-Nazi and dreams of build­ing panz­er tanks to help defeat the Ger­man army — a fan­ta­sy no more tan­gi­ble than Ilse’s. Sara, the next child, escapes real­i­ty by writ­ing fables that have truth in them, and the nar­ra­tor sim­ply tries to get on. Willibald is unin­ter­est­ed in his children’s edu­ca­tion, but Gabi is ded­i­cat­ed to it and goes to extreme, dan­ger­ous lengths in order to acquire school­ing and tutors for her beloved off­spring. Frau von Kamin­sky, a high-born Ger­man who is an old friend of Gabi’s, instructs her in how to get along in a world turned upside down.

In a dar­ing move, Gabi takes the nar­ra­tor and Mar­tin to Berlin to her best friend’s funer­al. She is still con­sid­ered priv­i­leged” since she is mar­ried to an Aryan. Her friend’s sis­ter con­vinces Gabi to meet with some of her Jew­ish rel­a­tives still in Berlin. They appear down­trod­den and grey to the nar­ra­tor, and he doesn’t want to touch them. As they leave, his great-uncle calls out, Remem­ber us.” This phrase means more and more to the nar­ra­tor as time goes on and an evac­u­a­tion order comes for Gabi. How she han­dles it is the crux of the novel.

This nov­el is unique for the com­bi­na­tion of sophis­ti­ca­tion and naïveté that the nar­ra­tor brings to its telling. The duplic­i­ty, star­va­tion, and depri­va­tion the narrator’s fam­i­ly endures despite Willibald is poignant. Towards the end, the fam­i­ly is sur­viv­ing on boiled net­tle soup with a few dry bread crou­tons that Mar­tin acquires from a Ger­man girl­friend. Anoth­er inter­est­ing facet of the nov­el is its por­tray­al of the suf­fer­ing the local Nazis under­go dur­ing the bal­ance of the war when the Führer isn’t doing so well. 

This is often a hilar­i­ous book as well as a heart­break­ing one. The young nar­ra­tor, with his con­stant attempts to under­stand what is going on, pro­vides com­ic relief in a nov­el of cru­el­ty, death and destruction.

Relat­ed Content:

Suri Boiangiu recent­ly semi-retired from the posi­tion of assis­tant prin­ci­pal at an all-girls high school. She has either been an admin­is­tra­tor or taught Eng­lish at Yeshiv­ah of Flat­bush and Magen David High School. She loves read­ing mod­ern fic­tion, or any fic­tion, and Ama­zon knows her by her first name.

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