• Review
By – May 19, 2015

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.

Relat­ed Content:

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.

Discussion Questions