In Verklempt, Peter Sichrovskypresents eleven intriguing short stories that will leave the reader verklempt — or, according to the definition the author cites from the Yiddish Slang Dictionary,“choked with emotions.” In the preface to his collection, Sichrovsky explains, “In all the stories someone is verklempt, reacts in a way that is verklempt, or shows verklemptness.” Indeed, these characters and their stories run the verklemptness gamut as they bewilder, disturb, conflict, and amuse.
Sichrovsky, an Austrian journalist, politician, interviewer, and author has published eighteen books; he is best known for his interview-based works on German and Jewish post-Holocaust youth. His journalistic and informative style is apparent in Verklempt, his first work of fiction translated into English. The narratives are told in a straightforward, strong manner, and the European settings, speech patterns, and descriptive language add to the authenticity of the characters’ experiences. Sichrovsky alludes to including autobiographical threads in his tales.
There is a shared Jewish identity present in the stories that subtly deals with the effects of Jewish survival, anti-Semitism, and the Jewish people’s precarious existence wherever they are. The emotional underlying effects of the Holocaust emerge in the most unlikely circumstances and confrontational moments, as well as in contemporary political upheavals. In “Sirens,” a young family struggles to keep safe and sane during Saddam’s scud missile attacks on Israel. A Holocaust survivor is determined to extend his bloodline in “The Coffin Birth.” In “Prague,” political unrest thwarts a Jewish boy’s budding romance, and in “Pig’s Blood” an ex-Hitler Youth taxi driver tells his war secrets.
Sichrovsky’s characters also grapple with broadly relatable issues — everyday life, family, growing old, being ignored, or being in love. The book’s love stories encapsulate absurdity, hope, fear, joy, and anger; in “The Love Schnorrer,” a desperately bored and troubled husband tries to find a way out, and in “Onju,” the past haunts a new love. In “The Holiday,” three families try to share a Greek vacation and a friendship. The well-drawn characters of different generations, places, backgrounds, and histories engage in intense relationships.
This collection is a touching, thoughtful, and powerful read; Sichrovsky’s insights into people’s secrets, regrets, and consciences are artfully divulged. Verklempt certainly lives up to its title.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.