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A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirskiby Blake Eskin
Synopses & Reviews
A searing account of the rise and fall of the author of Fragments, told by a descendant of the Wilkomirskis of Riga.
In 1997, Binjamin Wilkomirski arrived in New York to read from his prize-winning book Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, his memoir of an early childhood lost to the concentration camps at Majdanek and Auschwitz, and to raise money for the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. This orphaned survivor also came as the guest of honor to the family reunion of the Wilburs (once Wilkomirskis). The Wilburs hoped to trace the unrecorded link between the Wilkomirskis of Riga in Latvia and the name that Binjamin remembered. The Wilburs and the media embraced Binjamin as a humanitarian whose eloquent story typified that of many child survivors.
One year later, Binjamin was publicly accused of being a Swiss-born, gentile imposter: on August 27, 1998, a German novelist named Daniel Ganzfried announced to the world that he had uncovered documentary evidence proving that Fragments was an elaborate fiction. Yet Binjamin still insisted his wartime memories carried more weight than the documents against him, proclaiming, "Nobody has to believe me." Those who continued to believe Binjamin included child survivors, psychotherapists, and his publishers.
Who was Binjamin Wilkomirski? Why would someone want to be him? And why would so many of us want to believe him? Wilbur family member Blake Eskin recounts the dispute over Binjamin's authenticity through reportage, interviews with Binjamin's acquaintances, and a visit to Riga in search of actual Wilkomirski relatives. In his absorbing narrative Eskin records the reactions of the media, the child-survivor community, and the Wilburs themselves to reveal larger disagreements over the reliability of memory, the value of testimony, and the individual's relationship to history.
Part biography, part mystery, and part memoir, Eskin's A Life in Pieces is an important and lasting contribution to the literature of the Holocaust.
"This is an incredibly absorbing look at Holocaust survivors and family identity." Booklist
Book News Annotation:
Through interviews with relatives and child survivors, New York writer Eskin investigates whether Wikkomirski—possibly his cousin—is really the Holocaust survivor he claims to be in his award-winning memoir, , or the gentile author of a fiction work. Includes family photos. Lacks reference notes.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In 1997, Binjamin Wilkomirski came to New York to read from his prize-winning Holocaust memoir "Fragments, " and meet his perhaps-relatives, the Wilburs. A year later, however, Binjamin was publicly accused of being a gentile impostor. The reactions of the media, the child-survivor community, and the Wilburs themselves shed light on debates about the reliability of memory, the nature of identity, and the uses and misuses of history. Photos.
About the Author
Blake Eskin first reported on Binjamin Wilkomirski for the Forward, where he served as arts editor, and for the public-radio program This American Life. He has written for The New Yorker, the Washington Post Magazine, Newsday, and other publications. He lives in New York City.
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