The Train to Warsaw

  • Review
By – January 27, 2014

A hand­some cou­ple sits in the compart­ment of a train trav­el­ing through snowy fields in Poland. She looks out, delight­ed, remem­ber­ing sled­ding as a child. He is cold, uncom­fort­able, and resentful.

Forty years before, they left Poland sep­a­rate­ly, young lovers escap­ing the War­saw Ghet­to. In Lon­don, a few years lat­er, they met again. Now mar­ried for forty years, he is a suc­cess­ful writer, invit­ed back to Poland to speak at a con­fer­ence, an invi­ta­tion he des­per­ate­ly want­ed to turn down, just as he rejects every­thing about Poland. She longs to see the beau­ti­ful home­land of her mem­o­ries again, and so they return.

The sti­fling inti­ma­cy of the train compart­ment and their hotel room sparks a jour­ney of mem­o­ry, love, pain, and loss. The beau­ti­ful War­saw Lil­ka loved and yearned to see again is gone. The anger Jascha can’t bury explodes. Their con­flict­ing emo­tions and their pas­sion pull them between past and present. Sto­ries long con­cealed are revealed.

The ele­gant spac­ing, care­ful­ly wrought lan­guage, and hand­some typog­ra­phy lend The Train to War­saw a for­mal­i­ty that con­trasts with an inten­si­ty often hard for its protago­nists — and some­times the read­er — to bear. Beneath the visu­al­ly attrac­tive sur­face of the nov­el boil unbear­able mem­o­ries and hard-kept sto­ries. The words of poet Antho­ny Hecht come to mind: Mere­ly to have sur­vived is not an index of excel­lence. / Nor, giv­en the way things go, even of low cun­ning.” Lil­ka and Jascha have sur­vived, but they bear the scars and have paid a high per­son­al price. This brief nov­el leaves a deep impression.

Relat­ed Content:

Read Gwen Edel­man’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

In My Char­ac­ters’ Shoes

A Ghet­to in the Mid­dle of the City

The Jews and the Sec­ond World War: A Read­ing List

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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