Synopses & Reviews
The extraordinary, controversial story of Vera Gran, beautiful, exotic prewar Polish singing star; legendary sensual contralto; Dietrich-like in tone, favorite of the 1930s Warsaw nightclubs, celebrated before, and during, her year in the Warsaw ghetto (spring 1941-summer 1942)...and her piano accompanist: Władysław Szpilman, made famous by Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning film The Pianist, based on Szpilman's memoir.
Following the war, singer and accompanist, each of whom had lived the same harrowing story, were met with opposing fates: Szpilman was celebrated for his uncanny ability to survive against impossible odds, escaping from a Nazi transport loading site to become a figure venerated for his wartime bravery, smuggling in weapons to the Warsaw Ghetto for the Jewish resistance.
Gran was accused of collaborating with the Nazis; denounced as a traitor, a "Gestapo whore," reviled, imprisoned, ultimately found innocent yet shunned as a performer...in effect, sentenced to death without dying...until she was found by Agata Tuszyńska, acclaimed poet, biographer (of, among others, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel laureate--"Her book has few equals"--Times Literary Supplement).
Tuszyńska, who won the trust of the once-glamorous former singer, encouraged Gran to tell her story and, amidst recounting her tale of survival and exoneration, the singer reveals for the first time Szpilman's shocking, close friendship with Gestapo agents from the infamous Jewish police, and describes the day that she herself escaped from the ghetto, witnessing Szpilman pushing other Jews onto the transport that would take them to the camps and to their death...
Using Vera Gran's reflections and memories, as well as archives, letters, and interviews with Warsaw Ghetto historians and survivors, Tuszyńska has written a portrait of lives lived inside a nightmare time, exploring the larger, more profound question of the nature of collaboration.
"The fraught politics of collaboration and guilt are dissected in this darkly absorbing biography of an icon of the Warsaw Ghetto. Poet and biographer Tuszynska profiles Vera Gran, a Polish-Jewish torch singer who starred at the ghetto's Cafe Sztuka and was dogged by postwar allegations that she collaborated with the Gestapo. (Gran's feud with her accompanist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who wrote her out of his celebrated Holocaust memoir, The Pianist, surfaces in her dubious counteraccusations that Szpilman was himself a brutal collaborationist policeman.) Tuszynska's shrewd examination of the evidence largely absolves Gran, but her account is really a probing, atmospheric study of the ghetto's moral ambiguities; like many, to survive and possibly to protect others Gran made compromises with the powerful, free-spending collaborationist figures who kept afloat the semiluxurious nightclub demimonde that sheltered her from the ghetto's agony. She's hardly a saint in Tuszynska's account; the author's sharply etched portrait of her in old age depicts a narcissistic diva with a demented persecution complex and her own load of guilt for abandoning her family in the early days of the ghetto. In Charles Ruas's skillful translation, Tuszynska's prose conveys Gran's story in brisk, evocative montage while, appropriately, leaving open enigmatic gaps. She finds no bright line of truth just subtle shades of gray that are revealing of a nightmarish time. 30 photos. Agent: Carol Mann, the Carol Mann Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Agata Tuszyńska was born in Warsaw in 1957 and learned at the age of nineteen that she was Jewish, a secret kept by her mother, who survived the Nazi occupation of Poland. Tuszyńska graduated from the Academy of Drama and Theatrical Arts in Warsaw. She is the author of six collections of internationally translated poetry and a biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer. She is the recipient of the Polish PEN Club Ksawery Pruszyński Prize and a grant from the Fulbright Foundation. She lives in Toronto, Warsaw, and Paris.