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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.
“Agata Tuszyñska sheds light into the dark corners [Vera Gran] had kept hidden, even from herself. . . . In the end, the reader is left to decipher the truths of what really happened, as everyone, especially Vera, seeks shelter from their own painful recollections. We can define, for ourselves, what is the meaning of ‘collaborator’ in a world gone so dreadfully awry that the line blurs between daily compromises and buying time. . . . A book to read slowly and think about.” —The Globe and Mail
“Agata Tuszyñska has written a fiery portrayal of lives lived in horror as well as an exploration of the profound question of who really did collaborate with the Nazis. . . . Evocative and succinct. . . . [Vera Gran] reflects upon every aspect of humanity, from apprehension, persecution and sadism to compassion, courage, and trust. . . . An excellent interpretation of life as a talented Jewish vocalist in the Warsaw ghetto and the extent to which people will go to survive.” —Examiner.com
“Darkly absorbing . . . shrewd . . . a probing, atmospheric study of the ghetto’s moral ambiguities . . . sharply etched . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly
“Renders the World War II years in great detail, but the meat of the book lies in the accusation that Gran collaborated with the occupied forces in Warsaw and her vigorous, lifelong self-defense. . . . A great choice for Gran devotees or World War II enthusiasts.” —Kirkus