Essentially a fable about the Holocaust, this story is distanced by a framing tale: far in the future, mankind has transcended human mortality and abandoned Earth for the stars. A researcher returns, and studies at Yad Vashem. She is fascinated by the love of life emanating from the manuscripts and makes Achilles’ choice: short and glorious instead of long and boring, she gives up her immortality in order to savor the brief, precious spark.
The story itself follows one family through several generations, until the twelve-year-old aptly-named Haim (Life) escapes the massacre of his village only to land in the Warsaw Ghetto. With beautiful language, striking images, and a surreal landscape populated with Jewish heroes and folklore, Andre Schwarz-Bart turns the unthinkable and unbearable into a dazzling portrait of courage and hope, and shows us why it is important to tell and retell these stories.
Sydelle Shamah has been leading book club discussions for many years, and is a published science fiction writer. She was president of the Ruth Hyman Jewish Community Center of Monmouth County, NJ.