I’ve just finished reading Melnitz which is written by Charles Lewinsky. The book has been translated into English from its original German text and is published through Atlantic Books this month. It had me hooked from the beginning as I followed 5 generations of a Jewish family living in Switzerland from the 1870’s through to the start of World War II.
Melnitz is a rather hefty read, but don’t let that put you off. You will quickly become absorbed as you learn about the characters and their lives in Switzerland.
The book starts in a town called Endingen, where in 1871 Salomon Meijer is a Jewish cattle trader. Right from the beginning of this saga we are aware of the prejudice that he and his faith were subjected to in one way or another. There is a glossary at the back of Melnitz which gives information on the various Yiddish words used throughout the book and I found it fascinating learning about the family and their customers across the generations.
As with any family saga there are tales of love and hate, sorrow and rejoicing and the book is beautifully written. Meijer’s life is changed when a distant cousin arrives at his door late at night, his family life is disturbed and the newcomer Janki changes the life of both his daughter and ward.
In Melnitz we see some family members truly rejoice in their faith whilst Janki’s son Francois turns his back on Judaism and converts to Christianity, in the belief it will benefit his business plans. His family are horrified and the conversion does little to change other’s perceptions of him outside of the community.
Lewinsky draws you in and you become attached to the characters as you watch their lives unfold. They may live in neutral Switzerland but family members get drawn into conflicts across Europe and there are tears to be shed along the way.
As Melnitz draws to a close the majority of the family are still in Switzerland. But the young rabbi Ruben and his family live in Germany, and with the rise of the Third Reich their future is uncertain. We follow Arthur’s story as he also feels the rise of anti–Semitism. As a Doctor he is asked to care for a young German Jewish girl in a children’s home in Switzerland. He soon realises that the girl is not ill but does not want to return to an increasingly volatile Germany. Arthur starts to correspond with the children’s mother and we follow them as it becomes increasingly apparent that she needs to leave Germany for her own safety.
Will there be a happy ending? Well, with the history of the holocaust, we can be pretty certain that not everyone will make it to Swiss soil. Then there is Uncle Melnitz himself – a ghost who appears to different members of the family at different points through the story. We learn of the conflict of his birth, many years ago and in the wisdom he has, that history often repeats itself and the suffering of his race continues through the years.
I can thoroughly recommend Melnitz, and priced at £17.99 it really is a good read!
disclaimer: we were sent this book in exchange for an honest review