Chasing the King of Hearts
by Hanna Krall
translated from Polish by Philip Boehm
This is my Poland choice for the EU Reading Challenge, one of several I bought from Peirene Press. It’s a true story from World War Two, retold by a journalist who herself survived the war by hiding in a cupboard. Which sounds like quite a story itself, but possibly not one as eventful as that of Izolda.
Izolda Regensberg is a Jewish woman whose history took her from the ghetto in Warsaw, to working for the Underground, to various workcamps and even Auschwitz. But we know early on this book that she survived, thanks to interspersed chapters about her attempts to communicate with her Israeli grandchildren.
Language is key to this amazing story. Language and love. Izolda speaks Polish, Yiddish, Russian and French, and during the war learns German, which helps her to fake her identity, make friends and make money. But in her old age she can’t speak even a sentence of Hebrew and can only communicate with her granddaughters through her own children. It’s an interesting comment on the reduced capacity for new language as we get older, even in people who are polyglots.