Ghita Schwarz: Displaced Persons

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Ghita Schwarz Displaced Persons
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Displaced Persons: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Moving from the Allied zones of postwar Germany to New York City, an astonishing novel of grief and anger, memory and survival witnessed through the experiences of "displaced persons" struggling to remake their lives in the decades after World War II In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, lands near a displaced persons camp in the British occupation zone of newly defeated Germany. Alone, possessing nothing but a map, a few tins of food, a toothbrush, and his identity papers, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers. Gifted with a talent for black-market trading, Pavel soon procures clothing, false documents, and a modest house, where he installs himself and a pair of fellow refugees – Fela, a young widow who fled Poland for Russia at the outset of the war, and Chaim, a resourceful teenage boy whose smuggling skills have brought him to the Western zones. The trio soon form a makeshift family, searching for surviving relatives, railing against their circumscribed existence, and dreaming of visas to America. Fifteen years later, haunted by decisions they made as "DPs," Pavel and Fela are married and living in Queens with their young son and daughter, and Chaim has recently emigrated from Israel with his wife, Sima. Pavel opens a small tailoring shop with his scheming brother-in-law while Fela struggles to establish peace in a loosely traditional household; Chaim and Sima adapt cheerfully to American life and its promise of freedom from a brutal past. Their lives are no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape. Instead, they grapple with past trauma in everyday moments: taking the children to the municipal pool, shopping for liquor, arguing with landlords. For decades, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim battle over memory and identity on the sly, within private groups of survivors. But as the Iron Curtain falls in the 1990s, American society starts to embrace the tragedy as a cultural commodity, and survivor politics go public. Clever and stubborn, tyrannical and generous, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim articulate the self-conscious strivings of an immigrant community determined to write its own history, on its own terms. In Displaced Persons, Ghita Schwarz reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war – ordinary men and women who have lived through cataclysmic times – and illuminates changing cultural understandings of trauma and remembrance.

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Pavel dreaded sleep, and he dreaded sleeping alone. He liked to have Fela in the house in case something happened, in case he stopped breathing. He liked to have someone there, even in the next room. In the early years of their marriage she would talk to him when he woke up from his violent dreams, comforting him, holding him. Now she did the work of a nurse, giving him a pill in an emergency, judging whether to call 911. He liked to have her in the house when he rested.

Fela would be pleasantly surprised, relieved, to find him asleep in his bed, not waiting for her, letting her relax and have a good time. Pavel raised his legs with his right hand, pushed aside the bedsheets with the left. The remote control was by his bedside. He would watch the news, think of something alive and bright.

But it was a murder they were reporting, a murder and a fire, and Pavel worried that with the noise of the television he would not be aware of Larry dropping Fela off, Larry chatting with his mother before letting her go inside. Pavel put the television on mute. If something important came on he would increase the volume. But nothing important seemed to be happening.

Pavel closed his eyes to help himself hear. Think of the living. He tried to concentrate. He almost heard the door clicking open, the lock turning shut. He almost saw Fela placing her purse on the table by the coat closet. He almost dreamed Fela’s body gliding through the hallway, moving toward the bedroom to wish him good night.


I am grateful to my agent, Lisa Bankoff, and my editor, Jennifer Brehl, for their advocacy and insight; to Molly Magid Hoagland, Cathy Park Hong, Emily Krump, Aaron Kuhn, Elizabeth Perrella, Tirzah Schwarz, Kevin Young, and the MacDowell Colony for their crucial support; and to Maurie Samuels and Malena Watrous for their perceptive advice, encouragement, and generosity.

About the Author

GHITA SCHWARZ is a civil rights litigator specializing in immigrants’ rights. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, The Believer, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.


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