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Reader Review - The Postcard by Anne Berest

Book Blog

A chance discovery in 2003 propels French author and actress Anne Berest on a journey to uncover the tragic fate of her ancestors. A postcard arrives, depicting the Parisian landmark Opéra Garnier. On its reverse side, a chilling inscription reveals the names: Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie, and Jacques – Anne's grandmother Myriam's parents and siblings all murdered at Auschwitz.

The narrative travels back in time, beginning with Myriam's grandparents fleeing the horrors of anti-Semitism in Russia after World War I. Seeking refuge, they settle in Latvia, where the family experiences both prosperity and further hardship. However, the escalating threat of persecution in Europe compels Myriam's Grandparents to embark on another migration – this time to Palestine. In contrast, Myriam's father Ephraïm and his brothers, hold onto hope and choose France. Surely in this country of tolerance and sophistication they will find safety.

Anne and her mother Lélia, piece together the family's history through official records and personal accounts. With the outbreak of war, the family faces a swift and brutal stripping away of their rights. Myriam and Noémie, focused academics with bright futures, are forced to give up their university studies, while Ephraïm loses his hard-earned business. As Jews without citizenship, they are must register as "stateless" in their small village outside Paris.

A fateful twist of luck – a non-Jewish married name – becomes Myriam's only lifeline when first Noémie and Jacques, then Ephraïm and Emma, are rounded up, imprisoned, and ultimately murdered at Auschwitz. Fleeing Paris hidden in the boot of her mother-in-law's car, and unaware of the fate of her family, Myriam finds refuge in Province with her husband, a Resistance fighter grappling with drug addiction. This period of hiding fills in significant blanks for Anne and Lélia, offering a deeper understanding of their late matriarch's life and resilience. The absence of their murdered family though leaves a gaping hole in the family tapestry, a constant reminder of the devastating toll of war and prejudice one that continues to effect the family into the modern day.

As a novel, the Postcard is haunting and visceral. As a history book, it's informative and revelatory, and as a memoir it's deeply personal. Put together, it's a stunning and vital piece of one of humanity's darkest moments.

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