‘A moving novel based on the true story of a family’s endurance and pain, and a heartfelt exploration of Jewish identity in a secular society’
A MAY 2023 INDIE NEXT PICK
A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2023
WINNER OF THE AMERICAN CHOIX GONCOURT PRIZE
WINNER OF THE PRIX RENAUDOT DES LYCÉENS
WINNER OF THE ELLE READERS PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE GONCOURT PRIZE
[ About The Postcard ]
January, 2003. Together with the usual holiday cards, an anonymous postcard is delivered to the Berest family home. On the front, a photo of the Opéra Garnier in Paris. On the back, the names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents, Ephraïm and Emma, and their children, Noémie and Jacques—all killed at Auschwitz.
Fifteen years after the postcard is delivered, Anne, the heroine of this novel, is moved to discover who sent it and why. Aided by her chain-smoking mother, family members, friends, associates, a private detective, a graphologist, and many others, she embarks on a journey to discover the fate of the Rabinovitch family: their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris. What emerges is a moving saga of a family devastated by the Holocaust and partly restored through the power of storytelling that shatters long-held certainties about Anne’s family, her country, and herself.
[ My Review ]
The Postcard by Anne Berest publishes October 5th with Europa Editions UK. Excellently translated from the French by Tina Kover, The Postcard is described as ‘luminous and gripping to the very last page…an enthralling investigation into family secrets, a poignant tale of mothers and daughters, and a vivid portrait of twentieth-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life.‘
Reading about events from The Holocaust is always a very affecting and emotional experience. From the moment I received a copy of The Postcard, courtesy of Europa Editions UK, I knew that this was going to be a tough, yet exceptional, read. Looking into the eyes of Noémie Rabinovitch on the cover forced me to consider the life she never got to live, the life cruelly and barbarically robbed from her, along with the lives of her younger brother, Jacques, and parents, Ephraïm and Emma.
Anne Berest has fascinating roots, with a family tree featuring Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Francis Picabia and Vicente Picabia, all provocative figures of the Avant-Garde and the French Resistance. Anne Berest grew up in Paris born into a secular home where Judaism was never really explored. In 2003, when she was in her twenties, a postcard arrived at the family home addressed to Myriam, her maternal grandmother. The postcard was anonymous and bore four names – Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques. These were the names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents and two of their children, who all perished at Auschwitz. Myriam was the only survivor of the family, due to extraordinary and fortunate circumstances. At the time, Anne’s mother, Lélia, put this curious and sinister postcard to one side and, over the following years, Anne completely forgot about it.
Fifteen years later, Anne Berest is reminded of that strange postcard. With the assistance of her mother Lélia, Myriam’s daughter, she starts to dig deeper into her family history. She unearths a terrible truth about the attempted extinguishing of her family and the inhumane and hateful murder of Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques Rabinovitch. And she also finally uncovers the secret behind the mysterious postcard that arrived in 2003.
The Postcard is a very disturbing and emotive tale. The first part of the book recounts the Rabinovitches’ early years in Moscow and traces their journey as they travel to Latvia, Palestine, and, in the case of Ephraïm and Emma, France. Ephraïm Rabinovitch was a creator and an entrepreneur. His family were extremely important to him, as was his standing in the local community. Despite early warnings and advice, he remained steadfast in his loyalty to France, never once imagining how he, his family and others would eventually be betrayed and sent to their deaths. In the narrative Anne Berest does change some names of places and characters to avoid any repercussions but the story remains the same.
Before the family originally left Russia, the patriarch of the Rabinovitches, Nachman, could sense the rise in antisemitism. In 1919, he foresaw the road ahead and gathered his family together to warn them.
“You must understand something. One day, they’ll want us all to disappear”
His menacing words perplexed his children, none of them quite understanding or believing the strength of his wisdom or the prophecy that it held. That evening in 1919 was the last time the Rabinovitch family spent together as they went their separate ways over the coming years.
The first part of the book is terrifying, heartrending and excruciatingly sad. The outcome is inevitable and expected but yet so difficult to read. Anne Berest vividly portrays the lives of Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques Rabinovitch, whose lives were horrifically and systematically destroyed, ultimately leading to their tragic deaths. But Myriam Rabinovitch, in a twist of fate, managed to survive and the second half of the book gives us insights into her life and the risks she took. Myriam Rabinovitch was a brave and strong woman but her heartbreak at the disappearance of her family, and all the unanswered questions, the whys and the hows, left her distraught and angry. As Anne Berest and her mother piece together Myriam’s story, they discover more shocking facts along the way, but they also ultimately discover the source of the postcard and what it meant.
The Postcard is a phenomenal and very powerful novel. Anne Berest, with the help of her mother Lélia, has constructed a work of literary excellence that explores the painful past of the Rabinovitch family. To unearth such a troubled and distressing story, and to elaborate with such incredible insights and facts, is a feat of pure determination and courage. Throughout the novel there are references to many real life characters who crossed paths with Myriam, the Rabinovitch family and their extended network. Samuel Beckett was a name that popped up unexpectedly, and led me down another path. Such bravery. Such fearlessness. Such valour.
The names of Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques Rabinovitch, along with the millions of other Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime, need to live on in our history books so that future generations never forget. Anne Berest has written a commanding piece of work, a very personal journey, with The Postcard deserving every award and piece of acclaim that it garners. Noémie Rabinovitch’s beautiful face will be forever etched in my mind.
Read an extract of The Postcard, courtesy of Europa Editions UK – https://www.europaeditions.co.uk/download.php?id=VTJGc2RHVmtYMStFWlZaa3hJUUNoazJKS3lCS1F3Nk9OR3MyMEJ5SkhCaz0=
[ Bio – Anne Berest ]
Anne Berest is the bestselling co-author of How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are (Doubleday, 2014) and the author of a novel based on the life of French writer Françoise Sagan. With her sister Claire, she is also the author of Gabriële, a critically acclaimed biography of her great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, Marcel Duchamp’s lover and muse. She is the great-granddaughter of the painter Francis Picabia.
For her work as a writer and prize-winning showrunner, she has been profiled in publications such as French Vogue and Haaretz newspaper.
The recipient of numerous literary awards, The Postcard was a finalist for the Goncourt Prize and has been a long-selling bestseller in France.
[ Bio – Tina Kover ]
Tina Kover is a literary translator whose work includes The Black City by Georges Sand, Nagar Djavadi’s Disoriental, Adelaide Bon’s The Little Girl on the Ice Floe, and Belle Greene by Alexandra Lapierre.
X (Twitter) ~ @tinakover