04 Dec / The Teacher by Michal Ben-Naftali, translated by Daniella Zamir [in Booklist]
“Elsa Weiss left no testimony behind” when she jumped to her death some 30 years ago. She remains a recorded name, one of the 1,684 Jews on the infamous Kastner train that left Budapest, Hungary, in June 1944; she was among the 1,670 passengers to arrive eventually in Switzerland after surviving a stopover in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The eponymous Kastner was both revered and reviled – and was assassinated in Tel Aviv in 1957 – for negotiating with Adolf Eichmann to divert these lives from the Auschwitz gas chambers.
To prevent Elsa’s erasure from history, a former student imagines Elsa’s life before she was her Tel Aviv high school teacher. Here is Elsa as a girl in Hungary, studying in Paris, getting married – and then, the horrific cleaving from home, family, country, and her very identity as well as her escape to safety when so many deserving others perished. Winner of the Sapir Prize, one of Israel’s highest literary honors, Michal Ben-Naftali’s biographical novel portrays a vanished woman finally found. Translator Danielle Zamir provides a vivid translation.
Published: 2020 (United States)