Author Richard Zimler has been deservedly called "an American Umberto Eco," and has his own high standards to live up to. With his latest novel, "The Warsaw Anagrams," he not only reaches those heights but thoroughly surpasses them. Equal parts riveting, heartbreaking, inspiring and intelligent, this mystery set in the most infamous Jewish ghetto of World War II deserves a place among the most important works of Holocaust literature.
The core of this novel focuses on the protagonist's seemingly preposterous commitment to unravel the cause of a single death - that of his beloved nephew Adam - amid the daily numberless murders taking place within Nazi-ruled Eastern Europe. This singular pursuit of truth and justice, so disproportionate to the context of the Warsaw Ghetto, serves as a kind of rebuttal to the genocide, with its anonymous millions of victims. "We owe uniqueness to our dead at the very least," explains Erik Cohen, the book's narrator.
Proof of Zimler's prodigious gifts of sensitivity, complexity and verisimilitude can be found in the way that we root for the survival of a narrator we know from the outset is already dead. (A ghostly visitor returning to the "scene of the crime," he is telling his story to someone who will indeed live to record it.) Such is the power of this voice's intimacy and purpose to insist on being listened to. In addressing his friend Heniek, he speaks to the readers, imploring us not to turn away but to pay close attention moment by moment.
Erik Cohen's previous life as a psychiatrist gives him an all-too-clear understanding of the darkness of the human soul. Yet in the face of brutality and meaningless slaughter, there are dazzling instances of humanity, love, empathy and self-sacrifice. In this novel, as in nonfiction reports from the Holocaust, truly the best and the worst of the human condition are visible, side by side: the ability to imagine and to obliterate, to torture and to resuscitate.
Causes Richard Zimler Supports
Save the Children, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)