William Morrow, Hardcover, 9780061881909, 352pp.
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
Moving from the Allied zones of postwar Germany to New York City, an astonishing novel of grief and anger, memory and survival witnessed through the experiences of "displaced persons" struggling to remake their lives in the decades after World War II
In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, lands near a displaced persons camp in the British occupation zone of newly defeated Germany. Alone, possessing nothing but a map, a few tins of food, a toothbrush, and his identity papers, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers.
Gifted with a talent for black-market trading, Pavel soon procures clothing, false documents, and a modest house, where he installs himself and a pair of fellow refugeesFela, a young widow who fled Poland for Russia at the outset of the war, and Chaim, a resourceful teenage boy whose smuggling skills have brought him to the Western zones. The trio soon form a makeshift family, searching for surviving relatives, railing against their circumscribed existence, and dreaming of visas to America.
Fifteen years later, haunted by decisions they made as "DPs," Pavel and Fela are married and living in Queens with their young son and daughter, and Chaim has recently emigrated from Israel with his wife, Sima. Pavel opens a small tailoring shop with his scheming brother-in-law while Fela struggles to establish peace in a loosely traditional household; Chaim and Sima adapt cheerfully to American life and its promise of freedom from a brutal past. Their lives are no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape. Instead, they grapple with past trauma in everyday moments: taking the children to the municipal pool, shopping for liquor, arguing with landlords.
For decades, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim battle over memory and identity on the sly, within private groups of survivors. But as the Iron Curtain falls in the 1990s, American society starts to embrace the tragedy as a cultural commodity, and survivor politics go public. Clever and stubborn, tyrannical and generous, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim articulate the self-conscious strivings of an immigrant community determined to write its own history, on its own terms.
In Displaced Persons, Ghita Schwarz reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by warordinary men and women who have lived through cataclysmic timesand illuminates changing cultural understandings of trauma and remembrance.
“Schwarz ... captures perfectly, and with elegance, the highs and lows, the grief and anger, and the paranoia of these refugees. In a word, this is a ‘humane’ novel.”
“In her warm portrayal of the postwar highs and lows experienced by Pavel and his family, Schwarz aptly evokes the emotions of those who survived.”
-Publishers Weekly on DISPLACED PERSONS
“An exquisite rendering of the internal lives of survivors”
“A haunting and memorable debut. . . . Fascinating”
-St Louis Jewish News
“An epic tale...”
-The Brooklyn Paper
“Ghita Schwarz makes her mark with this remarkable debut. Displaced Persons is a brave, brilliant, and haunting work of art.”
-Colson Whitehead, author of JOHN HENRY DAYS and SAG HARBOR
“In this powerful debut novel, author Ghita Schwarz, a child of Holocaust survivors, hypnotically spins the tale of a Polish Jew Named Pavel who bravely rebuilds his shattered life in the aftermath of World War II.... Schwarz brilliantly gives us the long view of what postwar survival really meant.”
“A deft rendering of the emotional architecture of an ad-hoc family of Holocaust survivors.”
“Ghita Schwarz poignantly reminds us that history chases us even if we run from it and that memory ensnares us wherever we turn. Displaced Persons is a big, ambitious novel, yet what’s most striking is its humanity....[it] is a terrific novel.”
-Joshua Henkin, author of the New York Times Notable Book, Matrimony
“This is an amazing novel. The writing is piercing and clear, and the humanity of the author and her characters will inhabit my thoughts for years to come.”
-Anne Roiphe, New York Times bestselling author of Epilogue: A Memoir
“Poignant and sharp, this engrossing first novel takes a …look at a time and a people defined by deep inner strength. Recommended for a wide range of readers, and a perfect book club choice.”
-Library Journal (starred review) on DISPLACED PERSONS
“Deceptively simple in style, Schwarz’s narrative discloses depths of tragedy, of suffering, and occasionally of hope…Stark, unadorned fiction, well worth reading.”