Writer: Pierre Assouline
Publishing House: Gallimard
Date of Publication: January 1st 2016
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me?’’
Samuel Beckett – The Unnamable
Gustave Meyer is a chess mastermind facing severe seizures. A special surgery seemed to have taken care of the problem, but the headaches returned. Out of the blue, Gustave finds himself involved in a strange murder and there is no other solution for him but to escape under a new identity. ‘’Identity’’ is the key word in this beautiful, complex novel. He starts a journey dedicated to the memories and the immense sufferings of his ancestors. From Paris to Vienna, from Krakow to Prague, Gustave becomes a Golem, trying to understand what it means to carry the Jewish identity through centuries of hatred, persecution and death.
I don’t have much to say. This novel is unique. Forget about the elements of ‘’Thriller’’ and ‘’Crime’’ and such utter bullshit. Let us focus on the eloquent, moving depiction of Gustave’s thoughts that pay homage to centuries of tradition and culture, drawn in the blood of those massacred over the centuries by the cancer of Anti-Semitism and pure evil. In a time when these abominations are still going strong in perverted minds because of populists and lack of any proper education, Gustave’s journey is one that has to be undertaken by each one of us. From his visit to the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris to the synagogues in tormented Krakow, to Lodz and Wroclaw, to Bucharest, Budapest, Kaunas, Kyiv and Prague, the centre of the European Jewish heart, the reader experiences all the pain, the despair, the cry of an unbearable ‘’Why’’.
I have been to most of the cities where the action takes place and the spirituality is more than palpable. If this chronicle, weaved with the eerie, haunting legend of the Golem, isn’t enough to win the heart of every reader, I have no faith in the future of our world anymore…
‘’Gustave Meyer crossed Charles Bridge, having left his ghosts behind. He stopped in the middle of the bridge. The Vltava was frozen and the trees by the piers stood still with frost. He looked at them one last time. Then, he searched the sky to find out where the white goes when snow melts.’’
*Extract translated by me, taken from the Greek edition exceptionally translated from French by Mariza De Castro.*