Feb. 2014. 224p. Bellevue, paperback, $14.95
The young Czech novelist Platzová has been busy. Since 2003 she has published two collections of stories and three novels. Aaron’s Leap, her second and the first to be translated, is assured, memorable, and deceptive. Aaron, a diffident Israeli cameraman, meets Milena, the granddaughter of Kristyna, while shooting footage in Prague for a documentary about Berta. A painter, teacher, and great soul famous for teaching art to children in the Terezín (also known as Theresienstadt) ghetto, Berta died in Auschwitz. We follow her, partly through diaries, from her youth in Vienna to Berlin, where she joins a sort of artists’ commune modeled on the Bauhaus. While Berta is a paragon to Kristyna, this is a story less about war than trust and betrayal. It is a moving, humane tale of life lived in history’s long shadow. This is part of its lesson: before the terrible, premature end of so many lives, those lives were truly lived, not in spite, or not only in spite, or despite privation. The ironies here are many and painful, almost overwhelmingly so. A question raised, whether “Survival is a question of will and the organization of life’s essentials,” remains open, and wounding.