This book is so horrifying that it is difficult to read, but so mesmerizing that the reader is riveted to the page. Over and over, issues of silence, secrets, memory, and survival force their way into the unexpected narrative of Mark’s father, Alex Kurzem, and remind the reader that truth is often stranger than fiction.
Alex has spent his adult life in Australia. He is a devoted father and husband, a storyteller, a man whose profession is “fixing” things and one who stores scraps of a life he barely remembers in a locked briefcase. The shards of these memories create such inner turmoil that Alex describes it as “two men inside [of him] “ […] one of whom “has been asleep for fifty years. Now he’s waking up, and the two are not getting along well.” As a result, he relates bit and pieces of his memories and leaves it to Mark to “fix” it.
The memories are traumatic, but insistent. The more Alex remembers, the more they take shape and define his identity. Mark ultimately learns that his father is Jewish, but that he became a “soldier” at the age of five; that he survived under the most extraordinary circumstances; that he was cruelly exploited by the Latvian Army, yet was embraced and protected by its members; and that at sixty years of age, given to explaining that he was “only a child,” actually blames himself for all he has seen and done.
The telling of Alex’s story is not without motive. He not only wanted to tell it for “his own benefit,” but also to serve as a “lesson for everybody, Jewish or not, about cruelty.” In the end, Mark remarks: “there was no resolution, no absolution, no closure, no moving on, no getting over it, no pop-psychology solution. Only an accommodation of the past.”