Peirene Press, £12 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Book review: Chasing the King of Hearts, By Hanna Krall, trans. Philip Boehm
Amazing but true, this romance fuses passion and tension
Friday 18 October 2013
Izolda Regensberg thought her story was so extraordinary that it should be made into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor - who indeed looked right for the part. The Polish writer Hanna Krall, who like Izolda survived the Nazi genocide of the Jews in the cauldron of central Europe, turned to the director Krzysztof Kiezlowski for advice on a Hollywood-style treatment.
That didn't work out, but she returned to the story and told it in an arresting style that rises in remarkable fashion to the challenge such a history poses to any narrator, combining steely lyricism with a thriller's tension. The photographs in the closing pages act as a subtly timed reminder that this is not a novel.
It is certainly a love story, albeit of a singular and mysterious kind. Izolda meets Shayek in occupied Warsaw; they marry; they are separated by force. These are the only facts that matter to Izolda as streets are razed, nations dismembered, relatives executed and communities eviscerated. A logician would need just a couple of briskly chalked lines to state the problem on a blackboard: she and Shayek are the two parts of a single unit; the goal is to reduce the distance between them to zero. But a statistician would need an impossible number of zeroes to express the probability of succeeding.
To have any kind of a chance, she has to keep moving. Survival means living by her wits, passing as not Jewish, delivering messages or goods – once, a jar of cyanide – for money, giving in to sexual coercion from blackmailing policemen. She is captured repeatedly, but achieves an astonishing mobility, trekking across the core of the Nazi Reich. Although she ends up on a train to Auschwitz, Izolda's story is of travelling rather than of being transported.
She is left with the inevitable questions about why she survived while those around her perished. Luck, of course, and agility, but the key is the logic of love that turns survival into a mission. She gave her man her heart; she cannot survive without it, so she has to keep going till she finds him.
Yet this love itself remains mysterious, for we're given little reason to think Shayek reciprocates it, and Izolda's own psyche remains largely hidden. After Auschwitz is liberated, she discovers Shayek at another camp. Having spent the war as the secret agent of a marriage, without a commander, she feels "joy and unbounded relief" when he tells her to straighten her legs. "Their rightful owner has returned," she thinks, understanding liberation in her own paradoxical way.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 #NotGuilty: Second Oxford student writes of brutal rape by two men who then threw her in a bin as part of campaign against victim blaming
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
- 5 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils