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February 26, 2024

Chasing the King of Hearts: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

If she hadn't visited Mateusz (she wanted to warn him that the vice squad would be enquiring about her), she wouldn't have learnt that the postman had been there. That he had delivered a letter. That her husband was asking for food. And that he had sent a new address. Mauthausen, Block AKZ. In short, everything in life is interwoven in enigmatic ways. - from Chasing the King of Hearts, page 78 -

Izolda is Jewish and living in Poland at a time when being Jewish is dangerous. Her husband, Shayek, has been arrested by the Nazis. And Izolda is left to fend for herself. She is nothing if not determined -- determined to escape the Ghetto, determined to evade arrest herself, determined to survive, determined to find her husband who she loves. Even when she finds herself in Auschwitz, she clings to hope and trusts she will survive the war and be reunited with Shayek.

Based on a true story, Hanna Krall's novella, Chasing the King of Hearts, is a poignant story of love and survival. Written in a surprisingly off-hand style, the book exposes the horror of the Holocaust. Krall has a way of showing just how arbitrary life and death were within the Warsaw ghetto, the concentration camps, and elsewhere in Poland during this horrible time in history. There are moments of humor mixed in with unimaginable images of torture and suffering. Izolda is a captivating character who comes alive on the page. To survive she must use her finely honed sense of what is safe and what is not, she must keep moving, she must accept help where she can and risk everything.

Krall includes real black and white photos in her short book which reminds the reader that this is not wholly fiction, but something between fiction and reality. I found myself moved by these simple photos, faces looking out at a camera that reminded me that yes, there were these people ... real people ... who lived through something we can only vaguely imagine.

Peirene Press is known for their short literary works and this one is particularly good. Krall's writing is poetic with a simplicity that transforms her story into something amazing. This is a book which will appeal to readers who love literary and historical fiction.

Chasing the King of Hearts is a translated work and is only now available for the first time in English. The book won the 2013 English Pen Award, and was shortlisted for the Angelus Central European Literary Award.

Highly recommended.

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2


Hanna Krall was born in 1935 in Poland and survived WWII hiding in a cupboard. She began her writing career as a prize-winning journalist. Since the early '80s she has worked as a novelist. For her books, Hanna Krall has received numerous Polish and international awards, such as the underground Solidarity Prize, Polish PEN Club Prize and the German Wuerth-Preis for European Literature 2012. Translated into 17 languages, her work has gained widespread international recognition.

  • Rating System

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Excellent
★ ★ ★ ★ = Good/Very Good
★ ★ ★ = Okay read
★ ★ = Not recommended
★ = Ugh! Don't waste your time.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-11-25
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