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Displaced Persons (P.S.)by Ghita Schwarz
Synopses & Reviews
In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, lands near a displaced persons camp in the British occupation zone of newly defeated Germany. Alone, possessing nothing but a map, a few tins of food, a toothbrush, and his identity papers, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers.
Gifted with a talent for black-market trading, Pavel soon procures clothing, false documents, and a modest house, where he installs himself and a pair of fellow refugees—Fela, a young widow who fled Poland for Russia at the outset of the war, and Chaim, a resourceful teenage boy whose smuggling skills have brought him to the Western zones. The trio soon form a makeshift family, searching for surviving relatives, railing against their circumscribed existence, and dreaming of visas to America.
Fifteen years later, haunted by decisions they made as "DPs," Pavel and Fela are married and living in Queens with their young son and daughter, and Chaim has recently emigrated from Israel with his wife, Sima. Pavel opens a small tailoring shop with his scheming brother-in-law while Fela struggles to establish peace in a loosely traditional household; Chaim and Sima adapt cheerfully to American life and its promise of freedom from a brutal past. Their lives are no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape. Instead, they grapple with past trauma in everyday moments: taking the children to the municipal pool, shopping for liquor, arguing with landlords.
For decades, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim battle over memory and identity on the sly, within private groups of survivors. But as the Iron Curtain falls in the 1990s, American society starts to embrace the tragedy as a cultural commodity, and survivor politics go public. Clever and stubborn, tyrannical and generous, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim articulate the self-conscious strivings of an immigrant community determined to write its own history, on its own terms.
In Displaced Persons, Ghita Schwarz reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war—ordinary men and women who have lived through cataclysmic times—and illuminates changing cultural understandings of trauma and remembrance.
“This is an amazing novel. The writing is piercing and clear, and the humanity of the author and her characters will inhabit my thoughts for years to come.”
An astonishing tale of grief and anger, memory and survival, Displaced Persons marks the arrival of a supremely gifted new literary talent, Ghita Schwarz. Schwarzs powerful story of a group of Holocaust survivors—“displaced persons”—struggling to remake their lives and cope with the stigma of their pasts in the wake of the monumental Nazi horror is beautiful, tragic, moving, and unforgettable, chronicling the lives of ordinary people who have suffered under extraordinary circumstances.
In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, finds himself among similarly displaced persons gathered in the Allied occupation zones of a defeated Germany. Possessing little besides a map, a few tins of food, and a talent for black-market trading, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers. With fellow refugees Fela, a young widow, and Chaim, a resourceful teenager with impressive smuggling skills, Pavel establishes a makeshift family, as together they face an uncertain future. Eventually the trio immigrates to the United States, where they grapple with past traumas that arise again in the everyday moments of lives no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape.
Ghita Schwarzs Displaced Persons is an astonishing novel of grief, anger, and survival that examines the landscape of liberation and reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war and trauma.
About the Author
Ghita Schwarz is a civil rights litigator specializing in immigrants' rights. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, The Believer, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
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