maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja FACT

 maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja, translated by Shelly Frisch, published by 4th Estate £14.99

A book that is impossible to classify and equally impossible to put down. It's mesmerising language is hypnotically beautiful yet at times it is describing events of immense horror which made me squeamishly guilty for enjoying its skillful storytelling magic.


More than once I closed the pages and set it aside, hesitating at what might come next. My knowledge of European history is fairly good but I had never heard of Babi Yar. So when I read:

"- I'll say a word and you tell me what it means. Okay? 

 - Okay.

 - Babi Yar.

 - Does it have something to do with Indians?

 - Not exactly.

 - So what is it?

 - It's a ravine near Kiev.

                   - THE NAKED MAN ON THE PLAYING FIELD, A film by Konrad Wolf, 1974"

I knew something really horrible was going to be revealed.

Petrowskaja says she wrote the book for her parents and thanks them "for surprising me with their appreciation of a book that I wrote for them and about them, in a language they don't know." Her family are Russian and she writes in German. She seeks the truth of her great-grandmother's life and in so doing has written a book of extraordinary insight and empathy about 20th century Europe. She travels into Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Germany, and she travels through time to World Wars and other conflicts. It is very much a story of Holocaust and Jewishness but also of humanity, its grossness and gentleness. Above all it is the story of a family, what it evidenced, and the traces it left behind.