Anne Berest, Tina Kover (trans.)
January 2003. The Berest family receive a mysterious, unsigned postcard. On one side was an image of the Opera Garnier; on the other, the names of their relatives who were killed in Auschwitz: Ephraim, Emma, Noemie and Jacques.
Years later, Anne sought to find the truth behind this postcard. She journeys 100 years into the past, tracing the lives of her ancestors from their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris, the war and its aftermath. What emerges is a thrilling and sweeping tale that shatters her certainties about her family, her country, and herself.
At once a gripping investigation into family secrets, a poignant tale of mothers and daughters, and an enthralling portrait of 20th-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life, The Postcard tells the story of a family devastated by the Holocaust and yet somehow restored by love and the power of storytelling.
A postcard arrives in the Berest family’s mail in 2003, containing only four handwritten words, each the given name of a relative who died in the Holocaust. ‘Who could have written this terrible thing?’ wonders Lélia, the granddaughter and niece of the four people named. The postcard is discussed briefly at the family lunch table, and though no conclusion as to its sender or its meaning can be reached, the postcard is put into a drawer and left there, until Lélia’s daughter, Anne, has an urge to understand more about her family some 10 years later.
And so begins the search to find out who wrote the postcard, and why they sent it, in this utterly engrossing piece of autofiction (Berest has called it a ‘true novel’), translated from French by Tina Kover. The Postcard was a bestseller in France, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Goncourt. It brings the facts and experiences of the Holocaust and Vichy France to a new readership, exploring the lives of several generations living through, and in the aftermath of, these terrible events.
This book is an incredibly compelling – and devastating – family story that uses the special powers of literary narrative to enrol readers in its project of remembering, a practice that is vital, political, personal, and universal. It also illuminates poetically the contemporary journey of Anne, a secular Jew, who is seeking to understand more about her Jewish identity and her experience of intergenerational trauma. Deep research supports the book’s historical detail, and the painstaking detective work involved in piecing together the story of a family whose existence was supposed to be erased is so alive on the page. The reader is there every step of the way, as new clues are discovered by Anne and Lélia, and the lives and experiences of their extended family are lovingly recreated. Once I had started reading, it was basically impossible for me to do anything else until the source of the postcard was found.
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