"Extraordinary...Rich in irony and regret...[the] people and settings are vividly realized and his prose [is] compelling in its simplicity."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
As the world slips into the throes of war in 1939, young Maciek's once closetted existence outside Warsaw is no more. When Warsaw falls, Maciek escapes with his aunt Tania. Together they endure the war, running, hiding, changing their names, forging documents to secure their temporary lives—as the insistent drum of the Nazi march moves ever closer to them and to their secret wartime lies.
The ``lies'' in this haunting, powerful Holocaust novel are not just the Nazis' monstrous racialist myths, but also the personal fictions adopted by their victims in order to survive. Two such survivors are orphaned nine-year-old Maciek and his sharp-tongued aunt, Tania. Posing as Catholic Poles to hide their Jewish identity, constantly on the move, they witness slaughter in the Warsaw Ghetto from a nearby rooftop and, later, break ranks on a march to cattle cars destined for Auschwitz. As narrator, Maciek speaks in a voice much more mature than his years alone suggest, yet his simple matter-of-factness lends a keen moral edge to his observations on the bestiality and irrationality around him. Just as the war ends, Poles carry out a bloody pogrom, and both nephew and aunt assume new surnames, living under new lies. Scattered italicized passages summoning up Dante and Virgil suggest the enormity of evil, a superfluous device in this searing story of the quest for an authentic self in an insane world.