Jurek Becker, the author of the first comic novel on the Holocaust, Jacob the Liar, and other highly acclaimed works, was one of West Germany's most famous exiles from the GDR. A survivor of the Shoah-his mother died in a Nazi death camp-and witness to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, Becker endured most of the trials that Jews experienced in Europe from the onset of World War II to the end of the Cold War. In the first biography of this fascinating figure, Sander Gilman tells the story of Becker's life in five worlds: the Polish-Jewish middle-class neighborhood where Becker was born; the Warsaw ghetto and the concentration camps where Becker spent his childhood; the socialist order of the GDR, which Becker idealized, resisted, and finally was forced to leave; the isolated world of West Berlin, where he settled down to continue his writing; and the new, reunified Germany, for which Becker served as both conscience and inspiration.
Gilman was close friends with Becker for nearly thirty years, and his biography is based on unprecedented access to both the man and his papers. As Gilman reveals, Becker's story encapsulates the fractured experience of life in twentieth-century Europe, a time and place in which political systems and national borders were constantly in flux. The life of Becker, we learn, was one of great literary achievement and notoriety, but it was also one of profound cultural dislocation. An important theme in the book is Becker's struggle with his Jewishness, an identity he repressed in socialist East Germany, but embraced after reunification, when he found himself at the center of Jewish culture and literature.
Sander Gilman's story of Jurek Becker is biography of the highest order, a portrait of an extraordinarily gifted artist whose hope and courage are manifested in his legacy as one of the greatest German writers of the past century. 12 halftones