Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review: Maybe Esther: A Family Story

Maybe Esther: A Family Story Maybe Esther: A Family Story by Katja Petrowskaja
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

KATJA PETROWSKAJA was born in Kiev, Ukraine; studied literature at the University of Tartu, Estonia; and conducted her PhD research at Columbia and Stanford Universities. She completed her PhD at the Russian University for the Humanities in Moscow. Since 1999, she has lived and worked as a journalist and columnist in Berlin. Maybe Esther is her first book, which was awarded seven international prizes and translated into nineteen languages.

I enjoy a good research narrative and that's really what this is - more than a memoir, as the author is only barely present in the book, it's the story of Katja's family members, as she traces them through the historical events that forced relocation. Most of her family members were Jewish and lived in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, with forced moves into Austria and Germany for some. The research takes her to Soviet archives, concentration camp historians, an old rabbi who knew a family member, a former student of the "deaf-mute" schools her family members were known for establishing, and even a former landlord.

There is some reflection by the author on places that do not seem to acknowledge the atrocities that occured where they are. Kiev really stood out this way, where 13k+ Jewish people were killed in two days but the statues of commemoration of that period are about local war heroes instead.

While I found the contents and approach unique, the book took a while to get through, largely due to its fragmentary nature and problematic formatting in the Kindle eBook version (which I paid for, not an ARC.)

My book club read this for September and I missed the discussion but it sounded like it had an overall positive response. I am also counting it for my Europe2021 project.

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