Sunday, June 13, 2010

Free Fruit for Young Widows

by Nathan Englander

Normally, I have little desire to read Holocaust stories.  I love a good war story, but that particular aspect of the Second World War is not something I enjoy reading about, and truthfully, I don't understand how people can enjoy it.  The stories, while often instructive, are just too bleak and depressing.

This short story, by Nathan Englander, was deceptive.  It starts out as a war story - the war between Israel and Egypt, and it begins with an odd little anecdote about how the two sides wore identical uniforms supplied by the French, and what happened when Israeli and Egyptian soldiers sat down to eat together at the same field mess.

At this moment, the reader meets Shimmy Gezer, a kind-hearted Israeli soldier, who is 'rescued' by the future Professor Tendler, who immediately after saving his life, gives him the beating of a lifetime.  Later, Gezer operates a fruit stand in the market in Jerusalem, and he gives the Professor free fruit on a weekly basis, something that mystifies Etgar, Shimmy's son.

Eventually, as Etgar ages, Shimmy tells him more and more of his experiences in the war, and finally, one day, tells him of the Professor's experiences in the Holocaust and immediately afterward.  This is a story about morality, and kindnesses earned and given.  Englander does a great job of capturing the moral clarity of youth, and then proceeds to muddy it, approximating the effects of aging.

A very strong story, with an illustration by Emmanuel Guibert, himself no stranger to a good war story.

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