Magazine article World Literature Today

Król

Magazine article World Literature Today

Król

Article excerpt

Szczepan Twardoch. Król. Kraków. Wydawnictwo Literackie. 2016. 428 pages.

The year is 1937. For nearly twenty years, Poland has been independent after a century and a half of foreign occupation. As Hitler casts an ever-longer shadow eastward, Polish democracy withers on the vine. Warsaw is divided: Jew versus Christian, socialist versus nationalist, gang versus gang. Jakub Szapiro is a Jewish champion heavyweight boxer turned righthand man to the crime boss Jan "the Godfather" Kaplica. And he dreams that one day, in this city, he will be king.

Such is the premise of the latest of Szczepan Twardoch's dark historical novels. Debuting last fall, Król (The king) has become a runaway best-seller in its home country. With complex characters, a rich noir atmosphere, and an action-packed story, it is one of the most compelling novels to have come out of Poland in recent years.

We see Warsaw from the perspective of young Moshe Bernsztajn-a teenager whose father, Szapiro, kills, only to take the boy under his wing. Forty years later in Israel, Bernzstajn tells us the story of his initiation into the Warsaw underworld. Kaplica's gang battles fascists on the streets as the government teeters on the verge of collapse. As anti-Semitism metastasizes in Polish society, Szapiro and his Jewish compatriots debate whether to emigrate to Palestine or stay and fight. …

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