Nine Suitcases by Béla Zsolt - review by Carole Angier

Carole Angier

Home Is Where the Danger Is

Nine Suitcases

By

Jonathan Cape 324pp £17.99 (Trans Ladislaus Löb) order from our bookshop
 

VERY, VERY RARELY you read something that knocks the breath out of you. The last book that hit me so hard was Gregor von Rezzori's Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, which exposed the poison that had been brewing in prewar Europe like no other I know. Now this masterpiece does the same for its consequences. I hope it has not come too late; that impatience with the old Jewish Problem and anger at the new one will not stop Bkla Zsolt from taking his rightful place with Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Tadeusz Borowski and Rezzori himself among the supreme artist-historians of twentieth-century evil.

It is only the English version of Nine Suitcases that has taken nearly sixty years to arrive. But the publishing history of the original too was as dogged by bad timing as its author himself. Béla Zsolt was born in 1895, in time for both world wars, and - as a left-liberal journalist and writer, both anti-fascist and anti-communist - for extreme political and racial persecution before, after and in between. He published forty-odd chapters of Nine Suitcases in his weekly journal Haladds ('Progress') in 1946-7; but he never finished it, and never saw it published in book form.

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